Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Pantster Plots

Off Topic Picture: Gina prepares for Hurricane Sandy
First of all, I want to extend my thanks to all the people who congratulated me on my HarperCollins deal via the blog, Facebook, Twitter, and email. I feel honored to know so many supportive people who celebrated this opportunity with me!

If you’ve been around my blog for any length of time, you know I’m a pantster – or at the very most, a dot-to-dotter. I generally launch into the first chapter of a new book with little more than a premise, a vague picture in my mind of characters, and a few plot points I’m aiming for. By the time I finish the first draft, I’ve figured out what the story was supposed to be about. Then I revise to match what I’ve learned.

Not this time, though. My current task is plotting out a sequel to THE EIGHTH DAY and outlining a plot arc for the series.  I’m writing a synopsis – before I’ve even written a single word of the next book.

This isn’t the first time I’ve outlined a novel before writing it. I also outlined my Tesla-punk historical manuscript.  After trying twice to begin the novel and never making it past chapter five, I threw the outline away and let my MC lead the way. His story was so much more exciting than mine, LOL!

A couple years prior to that, I also outlined two sequels for a historical paranormal manuscript – and then stuck to the outlines right to the end and was happy with the results.  I think the difference was that they were sequels. I already knew my setting, my characters, and how those characters would react to their new adventure. I had the opportunity to explore their backstory, develop their personalities, and let them grow.

That’s what is saving me this time, too. A sequel is so much easier for me to plan all the way through than a book with new characters. That’s not saying there aren’t new characters in the sequel – and once I start writing, some of them may turn out to be a surprise or change the story in ways I didn’t expect.  I also know I’ve got a great team behind me at HarperCollins, and I feel like I can show them my outline and my synopsis and they’ll let me know if I’m taking the story to the right places, keeping the adventure high and the material fresh before I even start writing.

So, this leopard is working on changing her spots. But I don’t expect I’ll hang up my “pants” forever. I’ll probably need them the next time a completely new set of characters wants to use me to tell their story.

By the way, today is the last day to enter the Spooktacular Blog Hop for a chance to win a signed copy of WE HEAR THE DEAD, a signed ARC of THE CAGED GRAVES, or a Kindle ebook of TWO AND TWENTY DARK TALES. See the Blog Hop post below. Winners will be announced on Friday. Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Partners in ParanormYA: Real Case Files

Today, I'm welcoming Angela Brown and Gwen Gardner, who both write about the paranormal. Their characters enjoy ghost whispering, shadow jumping, and other abilities. But that’s all fiction, right? They made the stuff up. That’s what writers do.

But what if...it was real? What if, the things our characters experience really happened?

So what’s real, and what’s not - and can you believe your eyes and senses?

Real Case #1
By Gwen Gardner
July 4, 2001. The night my dad died, I lived six hours away. I didn’t make it in time to say goodbye. It wasn’t completely unexpected, as he’d been ill for years. My mom didn’t want to sleep in the bed they’d shared, so I volunteered to sleep in their bedroom. The room faced the backyard. Curtains were drawn. It was completely dark when I crawled into bed. And I saw it - the flash of blinding light in the mirror. How did it happen when everything was dark? My research told me there was no explanation...

Real Case #2
By Angela Brown
My daughter has an RC car that had run dead, or so I thought. It was sitting in the living room. I was sitting in the living room. Suddenly, it does one of the voices in the car. Then it does it a second time. I've had two different people tell me it had to do with the last battery power and the wiring. Even still, it was weird as hell.

Real Case #3
By Gwen Gardner
July 7, 2001. Three days after my dad’s passing and I was back at work, in my office. “Gwen,” someone called. “What?” I yelled back. Our small company contained four offices and a conference room, so we habitually called to each other. Nobody answered my call. I ignored it. Once again the call came - “Gwen!” Once again I called back, “what?” No answer again. So I got up and walked down the hall, looking into every office as I went. Every office was empty. I looked again. I looked outside. I was completely alone. Who or what was that tinny voice that called out to me?

Real Case #4
By Angela Brown
Second hand story. My stepfather’s lady friend swears that after my mother’s passing, a lamp shook across the dresser and crashed to the floor. Was it my mother trying to relay a message?

Real Case #5
By Gwen Gardner
My daughter and I were sitting on our deck one evening, at around 9:00 p.m. It was rural and quite dark, except for a motion light on the corner of the house. The light came on, which drew our eyes. A human shadow passed through the light. The light went out. Our glowing eyes met through the darkness. “Did you see that?” my daughter asked. “Yes, I did,” I answered. We discussed the possibilities. An Indian friend later told us the land we lived on was once owned by the Kumeyaay nation (tribal lands were now a mile away), and that the spirits still lurked there.

So what do you think? Are those from beyond reaching out to us? Have you ever had a paranormal or supernatural experience you’d like to share?


Purchase
Gwen Gardner’s Givin’ Up The Ghost at Amazon US and Amazon UK.

Please visit
Partners in ParanormYA for the Big Swag Giveaway.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Grunsday ...

I don't know if anyone remembers me venturing outside my safe zone last April to start a manuscript in a new genre. I made a lot of disclaimers, saying I didn't know what I was doing and I didn't know if I could pull it off. I even whined about the climax so much my husband took me to Mexico and let me climb a pyramid.

Well, sometimes, taking a risk pays off.  Here's my news, straight from PW Children's Bookshelf. I've been in a fog for several days now, just trying to take it in:

Barbara Lalicki at HarperCollins has bought, in a pre-empt, three books in a new middle-grade series by Dianne Salerni, author of the YA historical novels We Hear the Dead and the forthcoming The Caged Graves (Clarion, spring 2013). The Eighth Day is about a mysteriously orphaned boy who discovers a secret day hidden between Wednesday and Thursday, and the beautiful girl he finds next door, who only exists on the eighth day. Sara Crowe at Harvey Klinger brokered the deal for world English rights. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Spooktacular Giveaway Hop


I am delighted to be participating again in the Spooktacular Giveaway Hop, hosted by Inspired Kathy at I Am a Reader Not a Writer. This is a HUGE hop, with over 500 participants. Officially, it runs from October 24 – 31, but with so many participants, Kathy asked us to post a day early so that she can update all the links.  This means an extra day to start hopping and putting in your entries!

I’m giving away 3 Spooktacular prizes: 

  • A signed ARC of THE CAGED GRAVES (U.S. shipping)
  • A signed copy of WE HEAR THE DEAD (U.S. shipping)
  • A Kindle ebook of TWO AND TWENTY DARK TALES: DARK RETELLINGS OF MOTHER GOOSE RHYMES (I don’t have a story in this year’s Month9Books charity anthology, but look for me in the 2013 edition!)

Entering is easy. Just leave a comment on this post as per the directions below. You are welcome to try for all three!

  • For a chance to win THE CAGED GRAVES ARC, suggest a reason why anyone would want to cage a grave.
  • For a chance to win WE HEAR THE DEAD, name a dead historic figure you’d like to talk to.
  • For a chance to win TWO AND TWENTY DARK TALES, name the Mother Goose rhyme you find the creepiest.
  • You can also get an extra entry for the book of your choice by becoming a new blog follower.


Good luck, and may everybody be a winner some place in this hop!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Movies, Grades, and Books, Oh My!

Papers to grade
It’s one thing to know a film for We Hear the Dead is in the works. It’s another thing to be sent photographs of the filming locations under consideration. When the producer emailed me pictures of her #1 choice for location last week, it hit home. This is really happening.

Casting is in progress, and even though I had to bow out of writing the screenplay, they promised to send me the script for feedback. And it’s more than just a courtesy. I feel as if my opinion is really valued. They hope to start filming in mid-November. I could have production stills to share after Thanksgiving!  I might even have a DVD in my Christmas stocking!

Meanwhile, back on the home front, I’m coming up on the end of a trimester, with all the resulting grading and report card work. And I’m happy to report I’ve been reading a lot. Some of it is beta reading, but I also polished off several books this month:

In a Fix by Linda Grimes (Linda, the champagne glasses! For shame!)
Feedback by Robison Wells
Ten by Gretchen McNeil
All You Never Wanted by Adele Griffin

I'm now working simultaneously on:
Flesh and Bone by Jonathan Maberry
The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

And waiting for me in the wings are:

The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan
Sanctum by Sarah Fine
Quantum Coin by E.C. Myers
The Scribe by Susan Kaye Quinn

What are YOU reading?

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Happy Birthday, Lenny!

Look out, world. Lenny Lee is now a teenager!
He was sharp as a tack when he was a tween. I expect age is only going ripen his wit!

Lenny, I wish you a very happy birthday. With the help of my Dread Daughters, I made a video birthday card. I know you love animals, so here is Sorcia doing some tricks for you!




HAPPY BIRTHDAY, LENNY -- FROM THE SALERNI FAMILY: DIANNE, BOB, GABBEY, GINA, AND SORCIA

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Next Big Thing


Susanne Drasic and Fiona Claire both invited me to participate in The Next Big Thing meme, but I’m breaking two of the rules. Sorry!

First of all, I thought it was a hop, so instead of tagging others, I rounded up a few people to participate on the same day. You’ll find their links below, and they are all posting today.

Secondly, I’m supposed to write about my WIP. But while I’d love to tell you about my most recently completed manuscript, I can’t do that right now. Maybe soon. (Fingers crossed.)  Instead, I’m going to write about the book that’s releasing next spring.

What is the title of your book?
The title is The Caged Graves, and you can see the beautiful cover on the side bar.

Where did the idea come from for the book?
I saw a photograph of a grave surrounded by an iron cage on the internet. When I realized this unusual grave was located only an hour away from our house in the mountains, my husband tracked down the cemetery and took me to see it. Only there turned out to be two caged graves, not just one. They were the graves of two women, who died within days of one another. That’s where the story started.

What genre does your book fall under?
The Caged Graves is a romantic mystery in a historical setting.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
This is a hard question for me. Searching the faces of current celebrities doesn’t do me any good, because I have to imagine them in historical dress. The fact that casting for the characters in my first book, We Hear the Dead, is actually going on right now boggles my mind. I’m going to pass on casting The Caged Graves, too!

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Seventeen year old Verity Boone returns to her hometown -- where "the dead don't always stay where you put them" -- to marry a young man she's met only through letters, an unpromising engagement complicated by another suitor, her family's entanglement with a legendary treasure, and the caged graves of her mother and aunt.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
My book is represented by Sara Crowe and will be published by Clarion/HMH on May 14, 2013.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I first saw the graves in January of 2010. After mulling the story over for several months and researching various historical elements, I started the first draft in May of that year and finished it in September, five months later. I had a draft good enough to send to my agent by February of 2011, and after completing more editorial revisions with Sara, the book sold in August 2011 to Clarion/HMH.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Picture the Dead by Adele Griffin and Lisa Brown and The Agency series by Y.S. Lee are romantic mysteries in historical settings.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Most people seem intrigued by the caged graves, especially after seeing my photographs of the real ones. However, there’s also a romantic triangle, treasure, mysterious deaths, and dark family secrets that some people want to remain buried, even if it means silencing Verity forever.

These writers are also participating in The Next Big Thing today. Please visit and say hello!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Hello! It's Us ...


As some of you may know, my family owns a condo on Jack Frost Mountain in the Poconos, which we rent out to vacationers as a little side business. We use the house ourselves a few times a year—enjoying a getaway and doing maintenance on the place, etc.

Recently, my husband had a conversation with the cleaner who services the house between tenants. “You realize your house has a presence in it, right?” she asked my husband. She told him that she is sensitive to spirits and among all the places she cleans, there are three houses with spirits in them. One (not ours) had scared off several cleaning services before her. “But they don’t bother me,” she said. “As soon as I go in, I call out, ‘Hello! It’s Judy! (not her real name) I’m just here to clean.’ And they don’t bother me, because they know I don’t mean any harm. Yours is male. He’s always there, but not always in the same room.”

When my husband shared this conversation with me, I laughed. We’ve had the house six years, and I’ve never sensed or seen a thing. But then again, as much as I’m interested in the supernatural, I know I’m not sensitive. A ghost could wear a sheet and rattle its chains in front of me, and I’d never see it. The most I can say is I’ve always felt a sense of happiness and well-being in the house. 

But this weekend when we went up to the mountains, I remembered Judy’s story, and as soon as I walked in, I called out, “Hello! It’s us—Bob and Dianne and the girls!”

Shortly after arriving, I realized I’d done something dumb—left the bag with all our bed sheets at home. I ransacked our storage closet, and turned up two spare sets of fitted and flat sheets, but no pillow cases. So, I pulled the decorative shams off the pillows and brought them downstairs to the washer. “I found sheets,” I told my husband, “but we’re hurting for pillow cases. We’ll have to use the shams.” I opened the door to the laundry closet and discovered a pillow case lying folded on top of the dryer.

“Well, here’s one,” I said. “Left behind by a tenant.” I threw it into the washer.  Then I went into my bedroom and pulled the comforter off the bed. Underneath, I found somebody had left a pillow case. I brought it out to the washer. “Funny. Here’s another one.”

I went back into the bedroom to unpack. When I opened the closet, I found two more pillow cases neatly folded and lying in a laundry basket. I showed them to Bob and added them to the washer.

“You're kidding,” said my husband. “Ask for something else.”

“No,” I said. “I’m content.” 

There are four people in my family. We were provided with exactly four unexpected pillow cases.

Why? Maybe because we finally introduced ourselves.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Criticisms of a Cynical Adolescent: The Truth Hurts

Today I have a rare guest post from my 15 year old daughter, Gabbey. This hardly ever happens (at least not without a lot of wheedling and pleading on my part). Apparently she had a few things she wanted to rant about share in public. So I’ll turn the blog over to her ...

Criticisms of a Cynical Adolescent: The Truth Hurts
by Gabrielle Salerni

Honestly—I can’t be the only one who looks around and wonders what happened to my generation. What is it about them that drives me so insane, you say? Why, I’m glad you asked. Let us delve into the deep and find out.
Reason #1: Texting. I think I could name at least thirty people in my school who are married to their phones. I could also name several who go through three or four different phones in a year. Frankly, I don’t see what the big deal is. I get people who text me over the weekend and expect me to respond right away, whereas I won’t check my phone until Sunday night or Monday morning. Then I get to school and that person is upset because I didn’t text them back. Gee, I’m sorry. I guess I was too busy spending time with my family or trying to work through the ten pounds of homework I get every night. Sure, I get that some things are urgent, and someone needs to talk to me right away. In that case, I would recommend using the “talk” function of the phone and actually call me, using your voice to speak to me. Phones do that, you know. 
Reason #2: Grammar use. Now, I’m not asking for perfection. But would it kill you to capitalize the first letter of your sentence? Or use a comma? A period? And if you’re feeling crazy, you might even want to spell things correctly. I've never understood all the abbreviations people use in place of words now. Is it really that much work to type out an extra two letters to actually spell out the word “you” instead of “u”? It’s gotten so bad that I can’t understand half the things people say to me online anymore. “hey grrrrrrrrllly!!!! wu? do u wnt 2 hn out ts wknd?”
Look, either speak English or get off my friend list.
And then there’s the opposite, which I understand even less. Some people actually capitalize the first letter of every word when they type. WHY? That’s MORE work! Why would you sit there and hit the shift button every five seconds just to type out a measly sentence? I Mean, This Is So Annoying! Not Only For Me To Type, But It’s Really Annoying To Read!  It feels like I’m reading one giant title.
Reason #3: Clothing. Oh dear god, the things people wear to school nowadays. Do guys think it makes them look cool to have their pants falling down? Do they really think we all want to see their boxers? When you purposely let your pants fall down that far, you’re practically begging me to pull them down the rest of the way. As for girls—why must you make me ashamed to be female? Look, gym shorts and fuzzy boots do not go together. It’s either hot outside or it’s cold. You can’t have it both ways. Also, some of you seemed confused about the difference between a shirt and a dress. Allow me to explain it to you: a shirt covers your torso. A dress covers your rear end and your calves. Now, I understand your confusion since sometimes shirts are different lengths. But you’ll have to be the judge here. If the clothing in question leaves half your ass hanging out, then chances are, it’s a shirt.
        I could go on, really, but I don’t think there’s enough room for me to do so. Anyhow, I’ve shared the gist of my opinions. You’re welcome.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Autumn Has Fallen


It’s about time. After a muggy, sweaty September, we’re finally seeing some fall weather in southeastern Pennsylvania. This is the view along one of the White Clay Creek trails, where we ride bikes and walk Sorcia.

Things have slowed down for me, in terms of writing, and I presently have a little downtime. It’s funny – I managed to keep up a 3 day-a-week blogging schedule while I was editing The Caged Graves and revising my WIP and critiquing multiple manuscripts for other writers. Now that I have a break, I find myself with very little to say.

A couple weeks ago, I had no post for Friday. I almost posted to say as much, but it seemed a waste of YOUR time for me to post that I had nothing to post. So I just skipped, and the world didn’t end. Marcy Hatch emailed to check on me. Thanks, Marcy!

I think, for awhile, I’m going to knock the blogging back to Monday and Wednesday except for First Impressions and scheduled events – or if I have something exciting to share. (That would be nice. Where do I order up some good news?) I’ll still be around to your blogs as often as I can be.

I’m planning to use my spare time to read. There’s a long list of books I want to read, and it always seems that reading for pleasure is the thing that gets pushed off the schedule when I’m writing and critiquing and lesson planning and correcting student work. Well, this fall, I plan on moving reading up my priority list.

What are your plans this fall?

Friday, October 5, 2012

First Impressions: REDEFINED


Our last First Impressions submission comes from Julia Tomiak. This is the first page of her WIP, a YA Contemporary titled REDEFINED.

Most seniors from Keene County High School didn’t stay home on Friday nights to babysit their moms, but I did. 
Dad called while Billie and I were working on dinner.  I hesitated before I answered, wishing for the millionth time that my dad had a normal job.  Something predictable, nine to five. 
 “Hi Cat,” he said, “I’ve got a patient here who has been in labor for hours, and we’re worried about her blood pressure.  The baby is starting to show signs of distress.  This could be a long night.”
I held the paring knife up in midair.  “You’re not coming home, are you?” I asked.
“I’m afraid not for awhile.”
 “But I made plans to go to the football game tonight.”
“I’m sorry, Cat.  I really need you to stay with Mom.” 
I slammed the knife down to the cutting board.  “Fine,” I said, and hung up.     
“Dr. Tierney working late?” Billie asked.  
“Yes,” I said, chopping tomatoes more violently than normal.  Then I got an idea.  “Hey, Billie, are you busy tonight?”
She dropped the towel on the counter, looked at me over the top of her reading glasses.  “Your daddy hired me to help your mama during the day.”  She glanced at her watch.  “It’s already past five.  I’ve gotta help Earl castrate cows in the morning, and then we’ve gotta move some hay.  These old bones need to get in bed early tonight.”  She pointed a thick finger at me.  “And you need to stay here and do what your daddy asked you do to.”
I slid the tomatoes into the salad bowl.  “Fine.”

This first page does a good job of introducing us to the facts of Cat’s home life in one short scene: the obstetrician father, the hired care-giver, and Cat – who must give up a regular teenage life to take care of her mother. There are a few lines here that could be thrown out, because they tell us something we can see for ourselves. We don’t need … wishing for the millionth time that my dad had a normal job.  Something predictable, nine to five … because that comes across in their conversation. Ditto the sentence Then I got an idea.

I was struck by the fact that no one shows any empathy towards the mother on this page. It's like she's a chore. I'm assuming the mother is an invalid who needs round-the-clock care, which makes Cat's attitude -- hanging up on her father and slamming the knife on the cutting board -- seem self-centered. Of course, maybe the situation is different. Maybe the mother is an alcoholic/drug addict who has to be "watched" all the time, which makes the "babysitting" comment and Cat's resentment more understandable. Or maybe the burden on Cat is unreasonable. But since we don't know this yet our tendency is to think Cat's being selfish, which probably isn't the first impression you want her to make.

I suggest changing the emotional tone to more disappointment and less anger.  Make it plain this is the umpteenth time Cat’s plans have been cancelled.  Save her temper for a later scene, after we’ve had a chance to bond with her. On the first page, I think you have to enlist our sympathy. 

Likewise, Billie’s response could use tweaking. First, she gives an answer that is cold and business-like: Your daddy hired me to help your mama during the day.  Then she provides a perfectly reasonable excuse for why she can’t stay late. Since Billie has already stayed past five o’clock to help Cat prepare supper, I assume she is a caring person. Therefore, why not make her response show that from the start? Something like, You know I’d help you if I could, but Earl needs me on the farm and I’ve already stayed longer than I should.

Thanks, Julia, for sharing your first page with us! Readers, please share your thoughts and visit Julia at her blog, Diary of a Word Nerd.  And don’t forget to check out Marcy’s response to the same page at Mainewords.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

First Impressions: REVIVAL: THE DONALD BRASWELL STORY

Mark Koopmans
Our next First Impressions post comes from Mark Koopmans. His manuscript, REVIVAL: THE DONALD BRASWELL STORY, is the memoir of a Welsh Opera tenor whose promising career was almost destroyed by the hit-and-run accident which robbed him of his voice. Mark is co-writing this memoir with Braswell.

Chapter One: Waiting for the Horse
                                         “… People are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment…”
                                     – Hebrews 9:27 NIV

Donald Braswell
February, 2008 – Dallas, Texas
          In the long, empty restroom, my reflection waits for the answer to my supposed nugget of inspiration, but I’m cautious in case the door opens and I’m pegged as a weird old guy in a dark suit.
You realize this isn’t your second chance; it’s your last chance, right?
Glancing at the door, I shake my head as the statement in the form of a question repeats itself. Leaving my unanswered reflection in ponder mode, I wave at the automatic towel dispenser, which releases a sliver of coarse, brown paper.
Really?
A little annoyed at the cheap cost-cutting measures of the swanky hotel, I wave my hands like a demented monarch until the reluctant machine parts with enough paper to mostly dry my hands. I add my small offering a grey trashcan that’s erupting like Mt. Recycled, pull the door open and head toward the busy conference room.
America’s Got Talent had called and thousands of us descended on Dallas for this, their latest round of auditions. The guy in charge of our loose group had said we were “going up at about noon.” Looking at my Timex, there was still an hour to burn. Relaxed, I straddled a chair, with an annoying rock – changed it for another – and went through possible answers to whatever questions the three judges might throw at me during the introduction. I wanted to be ready because if I beat the infamous buzzers, I planned to use every second of stage time.

I like the idea of opening in the restroom, with Braswell steeling himself for the coming audition, wanting to give himself a pep-talk in the mirror but afraid someone will walk in and think he’s a nut. However, I’m not sure what “the answer to my supposed nugget of inspiration” refers to. Is it the Bible verse above? But that’s not a question. Is it the line below: You realize this isn’t your second chance; it’s your last chance, right?  If so, that needs to come first. But I think a simple rephrasing would help. He’s staring at his reflection, hoping an inspiring thought will come to him – but instead his inner voice taunts him by captioning the obvious.

There are some places where the narrative voice can be streamlined by cutting unnecessary words. (Annoyed instead of A little annoyed and cost-cutting measures instead of cheap, cost-cutting measures.) Sentences can be simplified, advancing us to the action sooner. For example, the sixth paragraph could start: Thousands of hopeful stars had descended on Dallas to audition for the next season of America’s Got Talent. 

Overall, I think the page does a great job of placing us right there, on the spot. There are plenty of wonderful sensory images that convey the setting and the anxious waiting of the narrator – for instance, straddling the chair with a feigned relaxed air, then having to switch it out for one that doesn’t rock. But there could be a little more polishing of the sentences.  Pretend an agent or editor told you that 10k words must be slashed from the manuscript. (Ahem. That might have happened to me.) You’d be surprised how many sentences suddenly spring out at you as excessively wordy! I am someone who writes bloated first drafts. Then I put on my Grim Reaper robe and bring out the scythe. My most recent work, which topped 98k in the first draft is currently down to 78k, and I know there is still more that will have to be cut.

Thanks, Mark, for sharing your first page with us! This is my first memoir on First Impressions. Readers, please give us your thoughts and be sure to say aloha to Mark at his blog, Aloha! Mark Koopmans Says Hi from HI.  And, of course, be sure to see what Marcy Hatch has to say about this same page over at Mainewords. (Maine and Hawaii. Can’t get too much farther away than that in the U.S., huh?)




Monday, October 1, 2012

First Impressions: GOODNIGHT STRANGER


Our first submissions for First Impression in October comes from Rebecca Buss. The working title of this YA Suspense story is GOODNIGHT STRANGER.

In the middle of the night, and in the middle of a rainstorm, Paige Aldridge climbed up a set of metal-grate stairs in nothing more than her pajamas. The stairs were about as reliable as a fire escape, and a shoddy one at best, but there was no indoor entrance to her friend’s apartment – and Paige did not have many other options so late at night.

It had only been a few minutes earlier that Paige had woken up with her face pressed against the road. It was the rain that had pulled her from her sleep. A few drops of water landed on her hand and immediately she knew something was wrong. Then the sky opened up and soon Paige was soaking wet. Disoriented at first, she knew what had happened. Only she was not expecting to wake up lying across the double yellow lines of Third Avenue.

Somehow, Paige managed to get out of bed. Somehow, she left her house and wandered miles away, only to lie down again in the worst possible place. Somehow, Paige had managed to do this while she was still asleep, and unfortunately, this was not a new thing for her.

Paige reached the floor she wanted on the apartment building– three stories above the Westtown Deli, and only one story below the rooftop – and paused. She had to wonder what time it was. She had to wonder if it was a good idea to wake her friend and his brother just so she could come in out of the rain. They probably wouldn’t mind. Was it a better idea to make the trek home though? Or maybe that option was not even a safe enough one to consider.

She reached out her arm, gleaming with both sweat and rain, and knocked on the door. Her friends were not the lightest of sleepers. She knocked on the door harder, worried she would wake up the neighbors first. Paige raised her hand again, but she dropped it quickly to her side when the door cracked open and someone peered outside.

“Paige?” she heard.

“Yes,” she said, her voice still surprisingly heavy with sleep.

I really like the premise suggested by this first page. I wonder if Paige is an ordinary sleepwalker or if something more unusual is going on.  I understand that she wouldn’t have her cell phone in her pajamas, so she can’t call home for a ride. And I assume her friend’s house was nearer than her own.  But I wonder why walking home didn’t seem to be a safe option for her. I get the impression it’s not just a matter of crossing town in the rain. I’m intrigued.

I think the narrative could be streamlined for a smoother feel.  There is some repetition of phrasing (She had to wonder …) and three sentences in a row that begin with Somehow. I think those sentences might work nicely joined together. (Paige had managed to get out of bed, leave her house, and wander several miles across town, only to lie down again in the worst possible place.)

The other thing that struck me was the vivid image of her waking up and finding herself lying across the double yellow lines of Third Avenue.  I kind of wish the story had started with that.  Yes, I know the rule.  Don’t start the story with the MC waking up.

But if Paige’s tendency to sleepwalk (if that’s what happened) is central to the story, then maybe this is an exception?  And of course, the title is GOODNIGHT STRANGER, so I’m wondering if that ties in.

Readers, what do you think?  If Rebecca started the story with Paige opening her eyes and finding herself lying across the double yellow lines of Third Avenue, would that be intriguing? Or would it be cliché? (Or would it make the readers think she was opening with that other no-no: a car crash?) Maybe I’m nuts, and Rebecca should stick to the opening line she has.  Which I really do like, by the way. Starting with Paige climbing the metal grate stairs in a rainstorm in her pajamas and having her think back to where she woke up is a good way to avoid the no-no opening.

Thanks for sharing your page, Rebecca! You can find Rebecca at her blog A Page and a Half at a Time.  You can also find Marcy Hatch’s thoughts on the page at Mainewords.