Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Summer Goals Assessment 2013

Meeting up with Katie Mills in Paris!
The summer is over for me. I’m back at work … sitting in a teacher inservice meeting this very second, learning about all the mandatory changes happening this year. Right now, someone is probably advising me to Take a Positive Mental Attitude Toward the Changes.

Let’s not think about that. Instead, I’m going to look back at this summer and admire how productive I was by assessing the goals I set back in June.

1. Complete revisions for THE EIGHTH DAY #1. Not only did I finish the revisions, the manuscript came back to me for copy-editing at the end of July, and I completed that too! The next time I see TED #1, it will have been through the Design stage, and I’ll get a glimpse of what it will look like as a real book! Squee!

2. Complete revisions for THE EIGHTH DAY #2. I finished that, too, and sent the manuscript off to my editor. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous, but after completing the revision process for Book 1, I know my editor is going to help me take the manuscript to the next level. I look forward to the challenge. (I’ll have to remember I said that when I’m reading the edit letter and breathing into a brown paper bag. If you read my post at WriteOnCon, you’ll get the joke.)

3. Visit my sister and her family in Kansas. We had a lovely trip! My nephew and niece are getting so big, and my daughters were thrilled to spend time with their cousins!

4. Contact book stores and libraries about making appearances to promote THE CAGED GRAVES. Yeah, I tried that, and got almost no response – and the responses I got were NO THANKS. However, I did have a positive response from a local newspaper, which published a lengthy article about my teaching and writing careers. I was contacted by another newspaper and a radio show, and I joined the KidLit Author’s Club, so the summer wasn’t a total loss, promotion-wise.

5. Plan and plot THE EIGHTH DAY #3. I tried to plot; I really did. But eventually I had to resort to my normal method of plunging into the first draft to figure out the story. At this point, I have about 15k words written, and every time I think, That's it. I don't know what happens next, I realize what has to happen next and keep writing.

6. Swim and bike and walk. I did this! Unfortunately, I didn’t lose any weight doing it, which seems to be a nasty trick my body is playing on me as I come ever closer to an unhappy birthday with a 0 in it. But weight loss aside, I know it’s healthier to be active. I’ve built my stamina on the bike, and over the 9 days of my European vacation, my husband estimates we walked 52 miles!

7. Visit Cardiff, London, and Paris. Yes, we did, and I’ve been writing about it ever since we got back! The one thing I haven’t mentioned yet is meeting Katie Mills in Paris. Katie and I have been beta readers for each other for a couple years now, and it was awesome that she could meet my family while we were abroad!

8. Make a quick pass of edits/revisions to a manuscript and brainstorm/research a new idea. I did complete the edits on the older manuscript, but I didn’t really work on that new idea. However, I did review the author proofs for my short story BLOODY MARY, which will be appearing in this year’s Month9Books charity anthology, VERY SUPERSTITIOUS. And, I can now reveal the cover for that book, which will release in October. Isn’t it pretty?



Overall, this has to be one of my most productive summers ever!

What did you get done this summer?

Monday, August 26, 2013

Was There a Historical Arthur?

Geoffrey of Monmouth
Last week, I shared my explorations in Wales, where I visited sites linked by folklore with King Arthur. I also read a book that took each piece of “historical” proof for Arthur’s existence and subjected it to the standards of a court of law, asking: Is the witness (or writer) reliable? Is the witness refuted or discredited by other witnesses? And never mind King Arthur, can the existence of the witness be proved?

Geoffrey of Monmouth, a 12th century cleric, wrote about Arthur in his histories of Britain. His stories include a lot of magical episodes that are obviously fantasy, but could Arthur still be a historical figure? Geoffrey claimed he’d been given a nameless, lost book that chronicled the stories of Arthur, King of the Britons, but the existence of such a book cannot be proved.

Prior to Geoffrey, there are very few written records about Arthur. Two historians, Gildas and Bede, living in the 6th and 7th centuries respectively, make no mention of Arthur at all. They do mention other kings and warlords who defended Briton against the Anglo-Saxons, including Aurelius Ambrosius, Riothamus, Tewdric, and Vortigern. The existence of these men is (mostly) proven. I say mostly because some historians believe that Riothamus was not a man, but a title given to Aurelius Ambrosius. Parts of these four men’s lives resemble some parts of Arthur’s life. Could Arthur be based on one of them – or all of them? This cannot be proven, and furthermore, if Arthur is based on one of these men, then there was no Arthur.

Rutger Hauer playing Vortigern in the 1998
mini-series, Merlin
There is a backwards reference to Arthur in Y Gododdin, a medieval Welsh poem: “ … although he was no Arthur.” Unfortunately, the dating of the poem is disputed. It might be from the 6th century, which would make it the earliest mention of Arthur, but it might be from the 9th century, or even as late as the 12th.  Without a provable publication date, it makes poor evidence for the existence of a 5th/6th century Arthur.

A history written by the Welsh monk Nennius mentions Arthur and lists 12 battles he fought in. However, the names of the battles cannot be matched with any real geographic locations. Nennius is believed to have lived in the 9th or 10th century, but no historian agrees on when or even where he lived. If he can’t be pinpointed in place and time, his account is suspect. To further muddy the waters, some experts believe Nennius’s work was altered in the 12th century.

There are a few other works that briefly mention Arthur, all written in the 10th century or later, each one carefully examined in Wake's book. One of the recurring problems in these references is that the place names of Arthur’s deeds cannot be matched with real locations and most of the battles cannot be verified to have happened, let alone pinpointed geographically.

King Arthur was clearly a British hero to the 12th century Normans who read Geoffrey’s work. Other writers picked up this fascinating character and embellished his legend, adding the Sword in the Stone, the Holy Grail, Lancelot and Guinevere, and more. However, anything written in the 12th century or later appears to be based on Geoffrey's account, and in all the earlier references, the date, the author, or the authenticity is disputed. As a rather pointy nail in the coffin, two notable historians writing in the period contemporary with or closely following Arthur never mentioned him at all.

As for physical evidence, there is none. A so-called “Arthur Stone” discovered at Tintagel in 1998 is actually inscribed with the name “Artognou” A connection with Arthur cannot be proved based on the three beginning letters in the name, and besides, many scholars claim the stone is a hoax.

As John F. Wake writes in The Camelot Inquisition: “The feeling of wanting to prove the existence of Arthur is a strong one. Many authors believe in an Arthur. Many millions of people want to believe in an Arthur… [It] seems that from one vague mention [which] can be challenged on numerous points, we have a story that grows with every century that passes. From the moment Geoffrey took on Arthur’s story, he became a cult hero.”

It made me sad to conclude that Arthur was probably fictional. However, it also gives me the freedom to use the legend however I like in my books, without fear of contradicting history.

Hey, I can be as creative as Geoffrey of Monmouth, if I wish.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

South Wales and King Arthur

Roman Amphitheater at Caerleon
My upcoming book, THE EIGHTH DAY, has a tie to Arthurian legends – with, I hope, a unique spin on them – so I wanted to do research for the series while I was in Wales. During my visit, I found out that South Wales may truly be the origin of King Arthur, although not in the way I expected.

King Arthur would have lived in either the late 5th or early 6th centuries, if he was a real person. He was called “King of the Britons” – which meant he was ruler of an area that combined today’s Wales and England after the Romans left and during the time of the Anglo-Saxon invasion. In spite of fierce resistance, the Anglo-Saxons eventually overran the Britons. The land they conquered became known as England, and they called the original inhabitants “Welsh,” meaning foreigner. (Figures!) Some of the Britons fled and settled in a place that came to be known as Brittany (now part of France). Their descendants returned to England centuries later as part of the Norman invasion in 1066.

Our Welsh tour guide, Paul, took us first to Caerleon, the site of a Roman legionary fortress. This was one of the northernmost outposts of the Roman Empire, one made more palatable to the occupants by the building of an opulent Bath and an Amphitheater on the premises. The connection with Arthur stems from legends that he built Camelot near the ruins of this Roman fortress, or that he used some of the abandoned structures, including the amphitheater, for his own purposes. Geoffrey of Monmouth, the most prominent chronicler of Arthurian legend, specifically mentions “The City of Legions” in connection with Arthur. It’s also been suggested that the “Round Table” was no table at all, but actually this Roman amphitheater.

Ogmore Castle
Of course, there is no proof of this.

Paul also took us to the ruins of Ogmore Castle. This was a Norman fortress and well beyond Arthur’s time. However, some historians believe that Arthur’s final battle – the one in which he was mortally wounded by Mordred – took place on the plain near Ogmore. The wounded Arthur was then transported by boat on Ogmore River toward the sea, where either he died and was buried in a cave or was placed under a sleep spell to wait until his country needs him again.

Of course, there is no proof of any of this, either.

Ogmore River and adjacent plain
We also visited Cardiff Castle. During the 12th century, this castle was home to Robert of Gloucester, illegitimate son of King Henry I. A frequent visitor to this castle was Geoffrey of Monmouth, the cleric who wrote several histories of Britain. Robert was one of Geoffrey’s sponsors and helped him rise to great heights in the church. Geoffrey, meanwhile, wrote histories that pleased Robert … including tales of King Arthur which glorified the Britons who defended the land 500 years earlier (and were coincidentally ancestors of the Normans). Geoffrey’s book catapulted King Arthur, King of the Britons, to world-wide fame. Writers contemporary with Geoffrey and those who came after used his book as the historical reference for their own, while Geoffrey claimed that his own historical reference came from a mysterious, nameless, lost book that was given to him but has never been seen since.

The Keep, a fortress inside the fortress walls of Cardiff Castle
Sadly, there seems to be plenty proof of that part!

Our tour guide, Paul, recommended I read The Camelot Inquisition by John F. Wake. I promptly purchased it on Kindle and read it during my stay in Wales. Wake is a retired police officer who researched the historical existence of Arthur using the standard of a policeman gathering evidence to present before a court. It was very interesting reading, especially while I was visiting some of the sites mentioned.

Next week, I’ll share the details of what I learned, especially what, if any, reliable historical references can be found to Arthur prior to Geoffrey of Monmouth.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Getting Our Geek On

When my husband and I first started planning this summer’s vacation, we asked the girls where they wanted to go on their first visit to Europe. London was their top choice, followed by Cardiff, Wales.

“Cardiff?” we asked. “Really? Why?”

“The Doctor Who Museum,” they replied.

Now, I’m a pretty big Doctor Who fan, but even I was unsure about planning a stop in Cardiff just for this. However, when I learned the trip could be combined with a research tour of King Arthur-related sites in southern Wales, I was sold.

We flew into Heathrow on August 8 and took a train directly to Cardiff. Shortly after checking in at our hotel, we walked out to Mermaid Quay and Roald Dahl Plass, the location of the Hub in Torchwood (a BBC Doctor Who spin-off), and our daughters faced a disappointment. Roald Dahl Plass had been taken over by a beach-theme carnival, and it was impossible to take a picture of the pillars that make this site a landmark. As for the Water Tower – the secret entrance to Torchwood where Susie shoots Jack in the pilot episode – it was covered with advertising decals.

Our girls learn things don't always look like they do on TV.

Two days later, however, the Doctor Who Museum and Studio Tour made up for it.

The TARDIS on Cardiff Bay
“The Doctor Who Experience,” a 25 minute interactive adventure (similar to “Poseidon’s Fury” at Universal Orlando’s Islands of Adventure), was amusing, but the real gem here was the museum of old filming set components, costumes, props, and behind-the-scenes photos. Here’s the actual cradle used in the episode A Good Man Goes to War.


Fancy Captain Jack Harkness's trench coat and suspenders?


The Fourth Doctor's scarf:


And do you recognize this TARDIS? Probably not!  It arrived at the museum the evening before our visit, and we were told it was used on the filming set of the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Special, airing this November.


We also visited the BBC studio next to the museum and the actual 360 degree set of the TARDIS from Season 7 with 3 levels. As Gabbey said in awe, “We’re walking on ground that Matt Smith walked on!”




One of the coolest things about this tour was that everyone on it was as big a geek as we were. We explored the TARDIS with two gentlemen, each over six feet tall and burly, who bounced on their toes with excitement every bit as much as we did.

Even our tour of south Wales included a Doctor Who related stop. After visiting several historical locations (I’ll talk about those on another day), we spent a half hour at Southerndown Beach, where Army Of Ghosts, Doomsday, and Journey's End were filmed (think: the tenth Doctor says good-bye to Rose) as well as The Time Of Angels and Flesh And Stone (think: the crashed ship full of Weeping Angels).




Our phones had no data connection on the beach, so we weren’t able to call up the exact image we had in mind when taking pictures. But when I returned to the hotel, I looked it up, and we came pretty close:

Rose Tyler (Army of Ghosts quote: "This is the story of how I died."):


And Gabbey:


My girls list the studio tour, museum, and beach visit as #1 on their list of Favorite Things We Did in Europe.


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Find Me at WriteOnCon

Today, I'm on vacation with the family. I admit, I'm writing and scheduling this post in advance, but by the time you read this I will:

  • have been to Cardiff, Wales and toured sites related to two great men: King Arthur and Doctor Who
  • be currently in London, seeing all the usual tourist sites
  • be headed to Paris tomorrow, where I hope to meet up with Katie Mills, otherwise known as Creepy Query Girl

I'm sure I'll have photos and stories to share next week. In all probability, I've been posting pictures and updates on Facebook and Twitter all week.

I also appeared at WriteOnCon yesterday -- or at least, my article on REVISION appeared there. Come say hello!

Cheers!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Damaged Characters: An Interview with K.M. Walton

Today I have an interview with K.M. (Kate) Walton, whom I first met on the Sourcebooks TeenFire ning site back in 2010, then met in person at various book events in our little corner of southeast Pennsylvania.  Some of you may be familiar with Kate’s two novels. For those that aren't:

CRACKED -- Victor hates his life. He has no friends, gets beaten up at school, and his parents are always criticizing him. Tired of feeling miserable, Victor takes a bottle of his mother’s sleeping pills—only to wake up in the hospital. Bull is angry, and takes all of his rage out on Victor. That makes him feel better, at least a little. But it doesn’t stop Bull’s grandfather from getting drunk and hitting him. So Bull tries to defend himself with a loaded gun. When Victor and Bull end up as roommates in the same psych ward, there’s no way to escape each other or their problems. Which means things are going to get worse—much worse—before they get better.

EMPTY -- Dell is used to disappointment. Ever since her dad left, it’s been one letdown after another. But no one—not even her best friend—understands all the pain she’s going through. So Dell hides behind self-deprecating jokes and forced smiles. Then the one person she trusts betrays her. Dell is beyond devastated. Without anyone to turn to for comfort, her depression and self-loathing spin out of control. But just how far will she go to make all of heartbreak and the name-calling stop?

1. Kate, the first manuscript you queried was a MG science fiction novel. The book that landed you an agent and a publishing contract was a YA contemporary about bullying. How did you transition from one audience and genre to the other?

I’ve always been a widely creative person – into a bunch of different things at once. So it never felt difficult to transition from one project to another. I’ve also written four picture book manuscripts (unpublished) and co-authored a book on how to teach mathematics (TEACHING NUMERACY: 9 Critical Habits to Ignite Mathematical Thinking, Corwin Press, 2011).

2. Can you share the story of how you landed a deal for CRACKED with Simon Pulse?

My former agent, Sarah LaPolla, submitted the manuscript to Simon Pulse, to Annette Pollert specifically, and she made an offer. I accepted the offer, and fifteen months later the book was released into the wilds.

3. One of the things I admire about you is your ability to connect with people (because I’m an introvert and it’s easier for me to hide behind my computer online). You seemed to have made a lot of contacts in the business even before you published your first book (ahem, like James Howe). What’s your secret?

I don’t know if it’s a secret, per say, but I am myself around everyone. I used to talk the same way to my sixth grade students as I’d talk to my sisters or my old Principal or the checkout guy at Wawa – I’m just me. And I’m a big fan of the great equalizer: humor. Making people laugh tends to break down the walls we humans like to hide behind.

4. You’ve handled some pretty tough issues in CRACKED and EMPTY and also in your upcoming project. What has been the hardest, most emotionally wracking thing to write about (without giving away any spoilers)?

Getting inside of the heads of my very, very damaged characters, feeling their feelings, thinking their thoughts, crying along with them, screaming out in pain – basically, all of it – has been emotionally wracking. But, on the flip side, it has been a distinct honor to get to know these three incredible characters (Victor and Bull from CRACKED, and Dell from EMPTY). Many times I wished I could jump into the computer and wrap them in my arms and tell them it would be all right. There are some scenes that I still cry when I read or even discuss.

5. I know that teen readers have reached out to you after reading your books, sharing their own stories. What do you say in response – and do you ever try to get them in contact with someone who can help?

I respond to each reader personally. Since every reader writes something different, my responses are customized, but I always let them know that their kind words have touched me. And yes, on a few occasions I’ve encouraged a reader to seek additional help and sent links to appropriate organizations.

6. All authors are advised to cause their characters pain in order to drive the story forward and create tension. What is one thing you had to do to a character that you didn’t want to do – but was necessary for the story?

If anyone reads EMPTY (or has read) then they’ll know.

7. Give us the teaser for your next book!

I’m very excited to work with the brilliant Annette Pollert from Simon Pulse again on my next book, which is currently untitled. It’s another contemporary YA, but unlike CRACKED and EMPTY it has distinct mystery bent. It’s also based on a true story.

A teaser:

Seventeen-year-old Hope Bailey is popular, likable, friendly, and kind. So, when a mean and insulting letter is shoved into her locker, Hope immediately thinks “joke”. Then a second letter shows up, even more threatening and horrible: I know what you did. I’m going to tell everyone. You deserve to die for what you’ve done. Hope stops laughing it off and decides to figure out who it is on her own. Bad decision.

K. M. Walton is the author of CRACKED (Simon Pulse ~ Simon & Schuster 2012), EMPTY (Simon Pulse ~ Simon & Schuster 2013) and the co-author of TEACHING NUMERACY: 9 Critical Habits to Ignite Mathematical Thinking (Corwin Press 2011) for mathematics teachers K - 8. She is a graduate of West Chester University, with a degree in elementary education. As a former middle-school language-arts teacher she's passionate about education and ending peer bullying. She gives school presentations on the topic "The Power of Human Kindness." She lives in PA with her husband, two sons, cat, and turtle.

Visit her at kmwalton.com or follow her on twitter @kmwalton1.



Wednesday, August 7, 2013

First Impressions: MEDITATION

Our final First Impressions for the month of August comes from Larissa Hardesty. This is the first page of her YA Thriller, MEDITATION:

TORI
Friday 8:30pm

I’m not sure what wakes me up first, the pounding in my head, or the coolness of the concrete floor I’m lying on. A moan escapes my lips and echoes around the room. As the throbbing slows and my eyes adjust to the dim light, I take in my surroundings.
What the hell is going on? I have no idea where I am. The room is bare and completely gross, the floor covered in dust and dirt.
I place my hand flat in front of my chest and push myself to a seated position. The familiarity of the motion I use in yoga every day usually calms me, but now my head just pounds harder, and my heart pounds with it.
Where am I? I search my memory. I had finished the yoga class, and decided to walk to the musical, and then…. I don’t know. My entire body shakes with a surge of adrenaline, and my breathing speeds up.
I have to calm down and figure out where I am. I breathe in slowly through my nose, and cough when the smells of the place register. It smells like something died in here. Or lots of somethings. I try breathing through my mouth instead, but that only dulls the stench.
Shaking my head, I attempt to stand, but my legs give out. As I sit back on my heels, I try to pierce the gloom with my eyes. It makes my head throb worse, but it’s the only thing I can do right now. Tears of frustration prick my eyes, and I blink them back. Crying won’t help.
My eyes adjust and I can make out a door in the wall in front of me. I drop to the floor and crawl to it. Using the handle, I pull myself to my feet. Please open, please open. I twist the doorknob. It won’t turn.
I twist again, turning the knob back and forth. It doesn’t budge. My heart and head pulse in unison, and I feel an asthma attack starting. What’s going on?
Yanking on the handle, I yell, “Hello?”  There’s no response, so I bang on the door with my fist. “Hey!”  I press my ear to the door and listen. Not a sound.

I’m sure most readers are thinking what I’m thinking: Abduction. My first impression is that this teenage girl has been kidnapped. And that makes my heart race. We’ve all seen the news. We know what happens to abducted girls. What a terrifying beginning!

I once took an online workshop on what agents and editors look for in a first page and the consensus seemed to be that Character, Voice, and Conflict are the three things you need to nail. This page has provided the Conflict and the beginning of Voice (but just the beginning, because she’s addled and confused). What could use further development is Character, because we know very little about this girl. The reader needs to bond with her quickly because she’s been plunged into danger before the story even begins. The tension is there; all senses are engaged by the scene, but I don’t know who this MC is.

What if we skipped the waking-up part? (Many people would say that “waking up” is one of those no-no beginnings anyway.) If the page opened with the MC already awake and aware of her situation – even if it’s only been a couple minutes since she woke up – we could learn so much more in an equal number of words.

She was leaving yoga class and headed for the musical. That’s all we know about her, but if the story opens a few minutes later, she’ll probably be running though those memories in more detail trying to figure out what happened. Even if she remembers nothing else, she’ll be concocting horror stories in her head. She’s probably seen the news too. She must know what happens to kidnapped girls. If her asthma has been triggered, she’ll be feeling the symptoms of it. Is she trying to use yoga to calm herself – or is yoga ineffective in a real, terrifying situation? Has she connected the smell of death in the room to what might happen to her?

I’m curious to know what Larissa has for us on the second page of this story, and how much of that second page would be effective on the first page if the story starts five minutes later. An alert, awake, and terrified MC will share more of herself and her personality in the opening lines than one who is just regaining consciousness. What if the story opened with the locked door, the foul stench, and the asthma attack? Then, BANG – you’ve got Character, Voice, and Conflict.

Readers, what do you think? Larissa, what do you think?


Marcy Hatch has her own feedback at Mainewords. Be sure to check it out. Larissa, thanks for sharing your page with us! And if you don’t know Larissa, say hello at her blog, Larissa’s World.

Monday, August 5, 2013

First Impressions: MONSTER TOWN

Our next First Impression comes from Garrett Vander Leun, who is sharing the first page of MONSTER TOWN, a middle grade fantasy.

Vampire, on the roof, freaking out in a beach chair.  Other kids had alarm clocks, I had my dad.
Scritch-scritch.
That was the first part, the little scoot-back.  He'd be chanting or yodeling or whatever he did while he meditated on the roof, and then the sun would sneak up on his little, grey toes.
Scritch-scritch.
That's how I woke up every single morning.  The sound of him scooting away.  A sound like the blade of a clumsy knife screeching across a plate.  Like an idiot vampire who should have known better.
Boom!
It sounded like thunder when the sun put a little sizzle in his shorts and he fell over backwards. It shook the walls and rocked my mattress and absolutely guaranteed I was done sleeping.  I'd just lay there with my hands lumped into fists and wait for the rest to happen.  On the morning of my thirteenth birthday, the vampire jumped off my roof like a man on fire.  To be fair, he probably was.  When he sprung off the shingles, little white bits of ceiling sprinkled into my hair just like parmesan cheese on spaghetti. 
Ca-runk!
He came down in the bushes outside my window and snapped and crackled his way out of anything left standing.  The way his hands fumbled along the outside wall sounded like trouble.
Again.
I shook my curls out and kicked my sheets off and reminded my legs how to walk as I pin-balled down the hallway.  I couldn't remember if I'd left the sliding glass door open or not and those kind of things matter to vampires running away from the sun.
Ka-reesh!
The sliding door was open, but the screen door was not.  My dad dove right through it, head first. 
“Congratulations, Dad - you're on fire.  Again.”  His hands looked like candles; I wondered what kind of wish I would get if I blew them out.  Maybe I'd woosh all the other monsters I had to live with right out of existence.
"Bobby!"
The kitchen sink wasn't too far away and the hose on the faucet might have reached.  A cup of water definitely would have.  I crossed my arms and watched the human torch dance instead.  He'd heal eventually.
My dad slapped his hands into the carpet like he was ripping into some sort of wild bongo solo and huffed and puffed through a rather lackluster ending when the fire finally went out.
"Well done, Dad."
He'd smacked brand new black, smoldering scars into the carpet right next to dozens of crispy older ones.  He turned his head sideways to look it all over.  "It kind of looks like cheetah print."

You know what? This is hysterical. The entire situation – a vampire on a beach chair catching fire on the roof while his son provides a fond, but slightly irritated commentary – I can’t imagine what reader wouldn’t be hooked by this.

I only have a few suggestions for tweaking. First off – starting with a sentence fragment is taking a risk that you might turn off the reader immediately, and it did confuse me a little. I think it would be easy to change. For example:  Other kids had alarm clocks; I had a vampire on the roof, freaking out in a beach chair. You could reveal the vampire is his father in the line below: Dad would be chanting or yodeling or whatever he did … This is just one suggestion. There are many ways to eliminate the fragment.

Next, do boys shake their curls out? That line made me think the narrator was a girl, but his name is Bobby. I don’t think we need a physical description of the narrator this early, and I doubt he’d think about his hair while getting out of bed to make sure his on-fire-vampire-father can enter the house. Why not just skip to: I kicked my sheets off

My last (miniscule) thing is this: A hose on a faucet can “reach,” but a cup of water can’t. So I wouldn’t try to use that parallel verb. How about: I could at least have brought him a cup of water, but instead I crossed my arms and watched the human torch dance. 

That’s it! I loved this. Readers, what do you think? Don’t forget, Marcy Hatch will be sharing her own feedback at Mainewords. You can find Garrett on Twitter, or at Douse The Lights, where he shares an online portfolio of his artwork, including character illustrations for MONSTER TOWN.


Friday, August 2, 2013

First Impressions: SAVING DANGER

Today Theresa Milstein is sharing the first page of her MG contemporary fantasy, SAVING
DANGER, looking for your First Impression:

I stared in disdain at my reflection. The Pepto-Bismol pink confection stared back at me as I tugged one of the many ruffles strangling my gown. The color clashed with the beachy-vibe of the high-ceilinged hotel room. “It looks like a cupcake vomited on me.”
Grandma Rosa stood next to the mirror. At the same time, she chuckled and stared at me sternly. A magnificent feat. She responded in her faint Italian accent, “It’s not so terrible.”           
I scowled. “Does she think I’m the same age as Danger?” In a few short hours, Danger would be my stepbrother. I didn’t know whether it would be worse to be stuck with him or his plastic mother for the rest of my life. “I’m thirteen—not five.”
She sighed. “Your father sure knows how to pick ‘em.” Grandmother pursed her lips, realizing her comment not only bashed Erin, soon-to-be Stepzilla, but also my real mother. “What I mean is—”
“Don’t worry about it, Grandma Rosa.” I ignored the dropping-an-anchor down-my-stomach sensation that always followed the mention of my real mother and forced a fake smile. “If this is what she thinks her junior bridesmaid should look like, I can’t wait to see her gown.” I wished I could wear Grandma Rosa’s head-to-toe black, which resembled my usual uniform. The reference to mourning wasn’t lost on me. “What do you think she’ll say when she sees your dress?”
We didn’t have to wait long to find out. Erin, her head a mountain of curling-iron-created curls peeked into the room—without having the courtesy to knock. Her coif contrasted with her t-shirt in jeans. She’d probably wait until the last minute to change into her gown. “Lulu—” Her eyes bugged out in a most cartoon-like way. “Mother Rosa, what on earth… it’s a wedding, not a funeral. You’re changing into something more festive, right?”
Grandma gazed down at her dress, as if noticing it for the first time. She placed her fist on her chest. “In the Old Country this is how widows dress.”
 Erin placed her hands on her hips. “You haven’t lived in the ‘Old Country’ since you were a child.”
 “I will always be Italian.”
Erin clamped her glossed lips in a grim line, but her angry thoughts flickered in her eyes and across her tanned face.

Having recently adapted a YA manuscript into a MG book, I am very sensitive to voice right now.  There are some words and phrases in the first paragraph that strike me as more YA than MG: disdain, confection, beachy-vibe, high-ceilinged. On the other hand, the line It looks like a cupcake vomited on me is perfect!

What do you think of doing something like this with the first paragraph?

I stared in disgust at my reflection in the hotel mirror. Pepto-Bismol pink stared back at me as I tugged one of the many ruffles strangling my gown. “It looks like a cupcake vomited on me.”

Or something like that? Keep in mind that the word stared appears three times in this opening, so you’ll want to change at least one of them.

I wondered next at the narrator’s soon-to-be stepbrother, Danger. Is that his actual name, or just a nickname given to him by the narrator (Lulu, right)? I wonder if you could slip that information in. If it’s his real name, it’s another indication of Stepzilla’s horrible taste. (Love Stepzilla, by the way!) If it’s a nickname, perhaps her grandmother could chuckle at this apt nickname for whatever-his-real-name is in the next paragraph before she speaks. Since Danger is in the title of the book, you will want the reader to grasp right away that it’s the name of a five year old boy, and I think this particular name needs clarification.

The only other thing I would tweak is Lulu’s wish that she could be dressed like her grandmother. I assume she means that she prefers dark clothes, not that she usually dresses like an old Italian widow! But the reference to a uniform threw me, and I think the whole idea could be restated in a punchy, MG-sounding statement.

Readers, do you have any other thoughts? Theresa, thank you for sharing your first page with us. Marcy will have her own feedback on Mainewords, and if you don’t already know Theresa, please visit her at her blog.