Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Special Edition First Impressions: TOUGH GIRL

Today I’ve got an early edition of First Impressions to share – not part of our normal series but an offer Marcy Hatch and I made on her blog last week to anyone wanting feedback before entering the first page contest on Writer Therapy.  Check the link for details of the contest. Entries have to be submitted by midnight, September 29, which means Marcy and I are critiquing Libby’s first page today.
This is the first 250 words of Libby’s manuscript, TOUGH GIRL.
 Reggie’s finger stiffened over the nozzle of bug spray as she slid slowly across the surface of the playground.  The can felt cool and light.  There wasn’t much poison left, just enough to rid herself of an incredibly annoying pest.
Her feet moved in a gliding motion, careful not to disturb any rocks or kick up dust.  Her invisibility cap kept her hidden from the crowd surrounding the basketball court, but they might notice if she disturbed the world around her.  She’d found the cap in a yard-sale.  It was red and faded and made her completely invisible as long as no one looked at her.   
Reggie inched closer and closer to the court, her eyes only breaking from her target to scan for debris below.  There were rumors that the playground was once covered in grass, but it had been killed by trampling feet and neglect long ago, leaving only pebbles and litter for the children of The Apartments to play upon.  A dry condom lay just beyond the toe of her scuffed sneakers.  It was sun bleached a tannish color and blended beautifully into the world around it.  If it hadn’t been torn open, leaving a dangling piece flapping in the wind, she may not have noticed it.  Reggie shuffled to her left, careful to avoid the rumpled heap of paper-thin prophylactic.  It was disgusting, but nothing to fear.  What little use it served was done with, and now it was just another piece of refuse to avoid on her path to vengeance.
Libby didn’t specify whether this manuscript was MG or YA, and reading the first page, I can’t tell. I thought the bit about Reggie sliding and gliding over the playground seemed odd, until I drew the conclusion that she was literally gliding or hovering.  That and the invisibility cap picked up at a yard sale suggest a MG audience to my mind, because we are supposed to accept the magical elements at face value, which sounds like something you’d expect of a younger audience.
But then there’s the condom, which has no place in a MG book. A lot of time is spent on the condom – 92 words in the 250 word sample.  I’m not sure why there is such a focus on this object, when we’d like to know more about what pest Reggie is trying to kill with the bug spray and why she has to be invisible.  I suspect it has something to do with the crowd at the basketball court, but I’m not sure.

In either case, no matter whether this is MG or YA, I'd rather have less condom and more Reggie -- not to mention the bug spray, because I'm pretty sure it's more important than the prophylactic.
Libby, thanks for sharing and good luck in the contest!  Readers, your thoughts? You can read Marcy's comments at Mainewords and find Libby at her blog.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Gathering Momentum

May 14, 2013 seems like a long time away, but I can feel things already starting up. The galley copies of The Caged Graves went back to the publisher, and ARCs will be out soon. I've started to design some swag. (By design, I mean I look over my daughter’s shoulder while she creates a bookmark template for me.) And soon I'll be looking forward to blog tours.

Speaking of which -- if you have any interest in me stopping by your site for a guest blog or interview, please contact me at I'd be thrilled to schedule something with you. I'm not comfortable sending out mass emails, and I won't be doing a "blitz" or a "chart rush" or anything like that. But if you'd like to have me over, I'd be happy to visit!

My next project will be a short story for the Month9Books 2013 Charity Anthology, a dark re-envisioning of an urban legend. The Month9Books 2012 anthology, Two and Twenty Dark Tales, is releasing in October, by the way, and it looks fascinating! Twisted little tales based on Mother Goose rhymes.  Did Jack really fall down the hill, or did Jill push him?

Finally, I've been trying to keep up my visits to everybody else's blogs, but I know I'm falling behind. The beginning of the school year is always tough, and dividing my brain between Mrs. Salerni, the teacher, and Dianne K. Salerni, the author, is sometimes a struggle. (There’s also Mom and Wife; let’s not forget them!) But I miss you when I don't visit you, and I will get around as often as I can!

Happy Monday, everyone -- and where did September go?!

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Farting Hour

We’ve decided to change Sorcia’s dinner time, and she doesn’t like it at all.

Sorcia is usually a pretty agreeable dog. She doesn’t beg for table scraps; she doesn’t steal food, and she’s at least *partially* obedient.  Her usual feeding time is right before the family dinner, but we’ve been having a little trouble every evening with something we call the Farting Hour.

I’d heard jokes about dog farts before, but until we had our own dog, I never knew how potent they could be.  Every evening, around nine o’clock or so, Sorcia starts to let loose. The first sign is some member of the family gasping and hollering, “Oh, Sorcia!”  That’s the time to grab a sofa pillow and cover your nose – or maybe just leap up and leave the room.

And there’s never only one.  It’s a treat that goes on and on.

Since it always happens at the same time, I suggested moving her dinner back by an hour or two.  That way, the Farting Hour wouldn’t begin until we’d put Sorcia out for the night. My daughter Gina mentioned that, according to a book she had on training German Shepherds, the dog should be fed after the family anyway, to establish her rank in “the pack.”

So, I shifted her feeding time – and Sorcia let me know right away she didn’t care for the change. She started following me around the kitchen while I made dinner, butting my rear end with her head – trying to herd me toward the garage where her food is kept. Yes, that instinct to herd sheep is bred into the dog, and I wasn’t crazy about being treated like a sheep.

Maybe Sorcia did think she outranked me!

Currently, I have to put Sorcia outside while I make dinner and we sit down to eat.  She watches us unhappily through the kitchen window, ears down.  In case you think we’re being cruel, the new procedure only shifts her dinner back an hour, so I doubt she’s starving.  She’s just lost the high rank she had in her own mind.

And for the most part, we escape the Farting Hour.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Exciting News!

Today's scheduled blog post (which was kind of boring anyway) has been pre-empted to bring you some breaking news ...

I just got word yesterday that a film short based on WE HEAR THE DEAD will be produced in the next four months, by ARC49 Entertainment, a company founded by film and television producer Amy Green and superstar Canadian musicians Chantal Kreviazuk and Raine Maida. The film short will be directed by Craig Goodwill (director of award-winning shorts Patchtown and Artist Unknown). Michael Konyves, screenwriter for Barney's Version (starring Paul Giamatti, Dustin Hoffman, and Minnie Driver) will be the executive producer.  The working title of the film is THE SPIRIT GAME.

I am SERIOUSLY psyched about this.  Because it is a film short, there may actually be a completed film before the end of the year.  It will go to film festivals. FILM FESTIVALS!

And the hope is that it might spark interest in a feature length movie.

Keep your fingers crossed for me!  I'll have more news to share later.  Amy Green (often referenced in lines such as "I talked to my Hollywood producer last night ...") tells me that casting is the first order of business!

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Hooded Grave Cemetery

Bill at Asenath's grave.
Shortly after Krystalyn Drown posted my cover and interview on her blog, See the Stars, one of her blog followers realized he lived near the actual caged graves and drove out to take a look at them with a friend.  Soon after that, he contacted me to ask whether anybody else had seen glowing lights turn up in photographs of the graves.

Uhhh ... I’ve never been there after dark.

I’m not sure I’d like to be there after dark.

But Bill Concini is obviously braver than I am.  He and his friend were out at the Mt. Zion Cemetery (aka the Hooded Grave Cemetery) around dusk and took pictures of themselves and the graves with their cell phones.

And they noticed something strange.  Bill is pictured at two different graves, and the photos are taken with two different cameras.  In each one, he’s surrounded by a glow.  By contrast, all the photographs taken of his companion have no glow, no matter which camera was used.
Bill at Sarah Ann's grave. (different camera)

Two possible explanations:

1.  Bill just has a glowing personality!

2. Sarah Ann and Asenath took a real shine to Bill.

Honestly, this cemetery spooks me out no matter how many times I visit it.  Did I mention that ALL the headstones are for women and children?  My daughter and I searched the cemetery and couldn’t find a single headstone for an adult male.  Is that creepy or what?  Granted, some of the headstones are probably missing (plenty of the ones still present there are broken), but only women and children?

Same camera, seconds earlier. No glowing light.
That might make a whole ‘nother book.

A special thank you (and a tip of the hat for bravery) to Bill Concini and his intrepid companion for these photos!  

Friday, September 14, 2012


I don't have a picture to go with this post.
So how about a cute picture of my dog?

Two weeks ago, I went into my 4-day Labor Day weekend feeling more than a little scatterbrained – as in, my mind was so scattered I couldn’t focus on anything.  There was so much I wanted to get done in those four days: ready a manuscript to send to my agent, plan revisions on another project, draft a short story that was under contract, read through the galley pages of The Caged Graves a second time, fulfill my promise to beta-read two manuscripts, and schedule blog posts for the upcoming week.  But with all these things swimming around in my head, I couldn’t focus on any one of them, and it was stressing me out.

So my husband made martinis, took me out to the hot tub, and made me recite everything I thought I had to do – along with the due date for each, where applicable. And he made me see that all of it was doable in its own time – and that not all of it needed to be done that weekend. The short story isn’t even due until December – why was I worrying about it in September? Some of the projects just required me to put my butt in the chair and do it – like the beta readings – but others were going to need to simmer over a few days – like the revision plans.

He wanted me to make a schedule, but schedules give me a rash!  Just having the dates and priorities pointed out to me was enough to rein in all those scattered pieces of my brain. And he also made me see the importance of walking away from every single one of them for large chunks of the weekend.  I took a bike ride with my husband, watched a movie with my girls, read a book for pleasure, and enjoyed the company of visitors.

Out of the seven things I wanted to get done, only three of them were finished by the end of the weekend.  But then again, the rest didn’t need to be. My goals were unrealistic and unnecessary.

When you take on too much – what helps you wrangle control of your scattered tasks? Thank heavens for my sensible spouse (and the hot tub/martini didn’t hurt either). What helps you?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Sheri Larsen's Celebration

First of all, if you don't know Sheri Larsen -- or if you don't belong to her Facebook group Writers Support 4U -- you need to fix that right away. Go on.  I'll wait while you join the group.

Now that you're back, I want to spread the news about the celebration going on over at Sheri's blog, Writers Ally.  There's a huge giveaway to celebrate Sheri signing with an agent ... In fact, I'll let Sheri tell you in her own words:

Today, I invite you to celebrate with me!! I've signed with Literary Agent Paula Munier of Talcott Notch Literary! And because our literary community is so freaking fabulous and generous, I'm having a Bigger-Than-A-Shopping-Mall GIVEAWAY!! The giveaway consists of:
·    two separate Rafflecopters with multiple giveaways 
·   and one grand prize Rafflecopter giveaway - to enter for the grand prize, you must enter either giveaway #1, #2, or both. 
There's only one mandatory entry. Everything else is up to you!! I know Rafflecopters can be a pain, but it was the only way to organize such a huge giveaway. The giveaway is open until September 27thWINNERS will be announced on September 28th. (Entrants may win more than one prize!)

Thank you so much for entering, spreading the word, and celebrating with me!!

a Rafflecopter giveaway
a Rafflecopter giveaway
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, September 10, 2012


Our third First Impressions post comes from Amy Makechnie. This is the first page of her manuscript A BOAT AGAINST THE CURRENT, which is Adult Fiction (although she says it could possibly be YA). 

I was ten when Gaysie Cutter tried to kill me.  Just like her too; always leaving a bad first impression.  It was July, the same week my father moved us to Sioux, Iowa, his childhood home, and the place he had met and fallen in love with my mother, Vienna.
A heat wave moved with us, a debilitating wet blanket that snaked its way around town like God’s curse upon Pharaoh.  And though it was hot enough to kill a cat, it couldn't keep my little sister, Bitty, and me, from attempting to run a whole mile to our future elementary school.  Lanark Lane was one flat mile of farmland, John Deere tractors, big ol' farmhouses, fields of corn, more corn, and something else smaller and green.
While running, a real cow mooed and scared Bitty and me so bad we about jumped out of our skin.  Several heart palpitations later, (the heartbeat was always something we were aware of) we resumed running down the open, dirt road, ever further away from the comfort of New York City skyscrapers, smog, foreign cabbie drivers, honking horns, and my favorite hog dog vendor on Fifth Avenue.  We ran until we saw it:  the great red tip of the rocket slide, the marker of Sioux Elementary.
We would have made it if it weren’t for the boy.

I wish this had kept going a few more lines! I want to know what the boy has to do with Gaysie Cutter, who tried to kill her when she was ten. (I’m assuming the narrator is female, although it doesn’t say.)

I love the first line, and I almost love the second line. (But I would lose the word always. How many times can you leave a first impression? Only once per person.)  I’m okay with naming the month and how they’d just moved, but the mention of the narrator’s parents’ love story moves me one step away from my narrator after I’d just gotten interested in her – and this is still only the first paragraph.

The heat wave and the running to look at the school – I liked this.  I also like the two contrasting lists – country vs. city. (Is that supposed to be hot dog?)  But the bit about the heart palpitations in parentheses threw me.  Immediately I wondered if one of the girls has a heart condition, but even if so, I’m not sure this is the place to mention it.

Then comes the boy.  And then we were cut off!  Boo hoo!

Overall, I enjoyed the voice and I definitely would’ve kept reading.  I do think the couple things I mentioned could be removed and addressed at a later time, just to keep us grounded in these two characters running down the dirt road in the heat to see their new school.

Thanks, Amy, for sharing your page with us! Be sure to check out what Marcy has to say about the same page, and you can find Amy at her blog Maisymak.

Friday, September 7, 2012

First Impressions: LOVESENSE

Today, we have Robin Hall returning with her YA Magical Realism novel, LOVESENSE. Robin was here for First Impressions a few months back. You can see her original first page here. She has now revised the page and is looking for feedback on the improved version.

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.
No more reading relationships at work, I remind myself as I tap my cross trainers in time with the photo processor’s whir, whir, flip. It spews three hundred prints of the same two smiling faces, but I'm not looking. Never again, especially after last week’s debacle with Mom’s friend Barb. Trust me, being the first to know that your mom’s best friend’s husband is leaving her for their pool boy sucks the big one.
 Craning my neck I see the “Alfred’s has the Answer” digital clock: forty-seven minutes to bride time. The whir is louder than our cheesy elevator music, and my nose, even though I’m telling it no, is taking in bigger and bigger breaths. I pop another Altoid into my already crammed mouth. I don’t want to know! Think about Barb. But I’m like a crack addict needing my next hit. And there isn’t an addiction recovery program to save me.
I pull a photo off the top of the stack. Even with the wonderful aroma of fresh ink, it doesn’t begin to cover the stench of this couple. It’s more than that rotten-egg sulfur smell I made in chem lab yesterday. It’s also, rotting meat, and moldy, squishy potatoes. A good dinner gone wrong.
As I squint at the picture, the formally clad couple separates, not mere millimeters like I usually see. No, they’re on opposite sides of the photo. This breakup is going to be ugly. I cross my eyes, looking for the timeline, and there it is on her diamond: six months. That scum guy is already holding someone else’s hand. I scratch at his face with my nonexistent nail, but it doesn’t even nick the photo. Blah. No wonder I can’t stand love; every time I’m supposed to see it I get numbers, distance, and raunch.

I think this first page is much improved over the original version in that it focuses on the narrator’s lovesense rather than the particulars of the drug store, as in the first version.  We get to see firsthand what her special talent does for her, how it works, and what impact it had on her in the past. I like this!

There are a few points that could still use tweaking.  I would take out the phrase Never again in the second paragraph, because it only takes another two paragraphs for her to give in to temptation.

Secondly, I don’t know what she means when she says: forty-seven minutes to bride time.  Is she going to a wedding? This sentence doesn’t seem connected to the paragraph it’s in.

And finally, I want some identifying information about the couple in the photograph – names, if she knows them. Is it an engagement photo or a wedding photo?  I believe in the original version, she mentioned names and said it was an engagement photo.  But here, I can’t tell.   I think it will help us visualize the photograph if she tells us more about who’s in it.

Thanks for sharing your page, Robin!  I think it is well on its way to making the first impression you want to make! Don’t forget to see what Marcy has to say, and be sure to visit Robin at her blog.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


Today’s First Impression post comes from Kate Brauning.  This is the first page of her untitled YA contemporary:

My mom was a pothead in college. I'm convinced this is how we got to where we are now. I’ve seen her college pictures- denim shorts and waist-length braids. A guy-stopping smile.
People say we look alike, but I don’t have the smile or the hair. I do wear jean shorts nine months out of the year, but I refuse to do the braids. Braids make redheads look like Pippi Longstocking.
I was wearing jean shorts the day I first saw Sylvia. I was glad I’d chosen them that morning, since they look good on me. Sylvia Young walked across the grass to our roadside produce stand, each step of her sandaled feet bringing closer the ruinous end of my contentment. I knew she was bringing the ruinous end of my contentment because I saw Marcus tilt his head.
He didn’t tilt it much, but I knew what it meant. He tilted his head that way any time he saw my tank-top tan line or I wore an above-the-knee skirt. I narrowed my eyes.
 “Hi,” she said. “I’d like a cabbage and six tomatoes.” Just like that. She wanted a cabbage and six tomatoes.
Marcus arranged them in brown paper bags. He carefully creased the tops of the bags. “Are you from around here?”
Of course she wasn’t from around here. We’d know her if she was.
“Just moved from St. Joseph. I’m Sylvia Young.” She smiled. She was dark haired with gorgeous high cheekbones and she seemed perfectly friendly. My contentment exhaled its dying breath.
“Going to Manson High in the fall?” He handed her the bags.
“Yep. My dad is going to teach science.”
I smiled. Manson High went through teachers with alarming regularity. “Four bucks.”
“Sorry?” Sylvia turned away from Marcus. “Oh. The vegetables.” She handed me ones and looked over the radishes. “This looks like great produce. Are you here every day?” Her eyes strayed to Marcus as she said it.
“Every afternoon,” he said. A ten-acre hobby farm produced a lot of vegetables.
“Okay, I’ll see you in a day or two, then.”

There are a lot of things I really like about this opening.  I like that we don’t need to be told that Marcus is the narrator’s boyfriend or at least her crush. We can tell by her reaction to the way he responds to Sylvia.  I also LOVE the way Sylvia completely ignores the narrator during her conversation with Marcus and is actually startled when the narrator names the price and asks for the money – like she forgot there was another person there. Perfect!

What doesn’t work as well for me is the segue from the pothead mother and “where we are now” to the jean shorts and Sylvia.  Based on the first paragraph, I thought we were going to learn more about the narrator’s mother and how being a pothead in college led to life choices that make her daughter unhappy today.  But then we shifted to jean shorts, and I’m not sure why the narrator was happy to be wearing them since they didn’t distract Marcus from the new girl at all.

Two smaller points are: I think you need to use Sylvia’s whole name the first time she’s mentioned rather than the second, and the phrase “the ruinous end of my contentment” is perhaps not right for this narrator’s voice.  It sounds Victorian.

My suggestion for this page is either: A. Keep the opening about the pothead mother and explain more about how that life choice has affected the narrator and landed her at the produce stand – or (and I think I prefer this) B. Start with Sylvia Young approaching the produce stand and save the back story on the pothead mother until we actually meet her. What do readers think?

Kate, thanks so much for sharing your first page with us today!  Don’t forget to check out Marcy’s critique, and you can find Kate at The Bookshelf Blog.