Monday, March 31, 2014

My MG Reader Switches to YA!

How did it happen? My voracious little MG reader has suddenly gone completely YA! Gina has reviewed many a book here on my blog, but today I'm interviewing her as a newly converted YA reader.

1. Gina, thanks for visiting my blog today! Can you list the YA books you’ve read in the last month?

The Fault in Our Stars, Looking for Alaska, The Twilight saga, Champion by Marie Lu, The Darkest Evening of the Year by Dean Kootz, Countdown by Michelle Rowen, and Mind Games by Kiersten White.

2. What do you think all these books have in common that draws you to them? (Except for the John Green books, it seems to me that most of them are speculative fiction. Am I right?)

I do enjoy dystopian novels the best, which makes up a good portion of the list above. I really love seeing a whole new world and form of society crafted into a story. I like books that have enough action, not necessarily fights or anything like that, and romance.

3. I was surprised to see you recently reading Kiera Cass’s Selection trilogy, because I thought that was primarily YA romance. (The girls are competing for the prince, right?) So, are you into romance now, or is there something else that drew you to those books?

I don’t have anything against romance related novels, in fact I quite enjoy them, but The Selection wasn’t entirely romance. I once saw a review that said it was like The Hunger Games without all the killing. Which is pretty accurate. It’s just a good book.

4. You saved your money and bought your own Kindle at age 10. Then you proceeded to devour MG books as fast as you could buy them and download them. Now, you’ve upgraded from a second generation Kindle to a Kindle Fire, and suddenly, I notice you only read physical books. What happened? Is the Kindle Fire not as good for reading? Or is there something about YA books that makes you want to hold them (and their gorgeous covers) in your hands?

I don’t particularly enjoy reading on a kindle for several reasons. For one, you don’t get the feel of the book. I enjoy physically having them. Also, it’s much harder to take notes for school or find a scene you are looking for. And in my school, if I try to read on my kindle, I get so many people saying that I’m not allowed to have a kindle in school. Even though I am, in fact, allowed. And even if I tell them that, they bug me endlessly and accuse me of playing games. It’s just much simpler to have the physical books. I only usually buy something on kindle if I want it so badly that waiting a few days just won’t do.

5. I don't think you completely answered my question there, because you used to read TONS of books on your old Kindle.  (Gina shrugs at me.) O-kay, moving on ... What’s the biggest turn-off to you in a YA book?

Well, in the case of the Selection series, the MC’s name was almost enough to make me not buy it. America Singer? Why? And guess what -- she sings. It took me a really long time to get over that. Don’t name characters such cheesy things. PLEASE!

6. What book or series do you wish there had been more of?

This is a hard question. For most of the books I’m thinking of, it simply would not work for more things to happen after it is over. It would have to be in the middle. My two favorite series were The Legend Series and Divergent. I would have loved to see more from those series. Although not just retelling of scenes I’ve already read from another character’s point of view, which is what the author of Divergent is doing.

7. Now it’s time for a shameless plug. Do you recommend THE EIGHTH DAY – and why?

Hmm, I think it’s a good book, but I’ve heard the author is a real pain. (Oh, very funny.) But I mean in all seriousness, I was unable to put The Eighth Day down for almost half the book, while in most YA books only a few chapters are usually that way. I thought it was extremely well written and filled with enough action to keep the story moving on, and makes you want to keep reading.

Gina, thanks for being here today! You've heard it folks: Don't give your characters cheesy names. Don't retell your novels from another character's POV and call it a new book. And write more dystopian despite agents and editors telling you that genre is dead!

And now, my other daughter Gabrielle will reprise her role as the Cue Card Girl from this weekend's high school production of Hairspray to announce the winner of a copy of Marcy Hatch's debut novel, WEST OF PARADISE.

Amy Makechnie, you are the winner! Yay! I will be in touch!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

What's Cool, What's Not

First of all, what's NOT cool is that the designers of Wii Fit Plus programmed the darn thing to nag and taunt me. I feel pretty good about trying to exercise after I come home from school, alternating between the Bowflex and the Wii. Considering how many other things I have competing for my attention, I feel downright virtuous just trying to fit it in.

It's not cool for the Wii to criticize my commitment, no matter how small a commitment it is.

Wii: Hello, Dianne. I hope you've been staying away from those afternoon snacks.

Dianne: (glances at snack bowl formerly filled with pretzels) That's none of your business.

Wii: Want to hear a fitness tip?

Dianne: No.

Wii: It's been two days since your last visit. Too busy to work out yesterday, huh? 

Dianne: (flips the bird at the Wii)

It pretty much goes downhill from there. What's MUCH cooler than being nagged by your Wii is getting a box like this on Friday:

Having already been dissed by the Wii, I wasn't going to let a BOX tell me what to do, so I opened it, even though it wasn't Grunsday yet, and found these!

The real, finished, beautiful hardback copies of The Eighth Day!

Then, also very exciting and very cool, yesterday PW Children's Bookshelf carried a trade ad for my book. It's really, really cool to see your book advertised in the PW newsletter!

HarperCollins is giving away more ARCs, so if you can't wait until April 22 -- or if you want your eighth day FREE -- you can enter the giveaway HERE.

So, what's cool and uncool in your life lately?

(I was tempted to discuss the PA state standardized test as another really uncool thing going on right now ... but then we'd be here all day. My rant on the test is going to have to wait for another day ... either a secret eighth day, or a day after I am safely retired.)

Monday, March 24, 2014

Mistaken Identity, Romance, and Murder: An Interview with Marcy Hatch

Marcy Hatch is one of my oldest blogging buddies and alpha readers, as well as my partner in First Impressions. So I’m delighted to spread the news about West of Paradise, her debut novel releasing this week from WiDo Publishing – a book I read wa-a-a-y back when it was just a manuscript.

Separately, Katherine Kennedy and Jack McCabe are drawn to Paradise Tours on the privately owned Cristobel Island, a resort promising life-altering adventure -- just choose the time and place.
They find themselves over 125 years in the past, 1881 to be exact. Neither of them knows the other is a fellow time-traveler. Jack's at the top of his game -- until his run-in with Alanna McCleod, the beautiful but deadly train robber. As for Katherine, she no sooner lands back in time than she’s mistaken for Alanna McCleod and can't understand why -- until she sees the wanted poster.
Set in the Old West, this high-spirited tale of mistaken identity, romance, and murder is part historical fiction, part time travel fantasy, and completely captivating.
Today, I’m interviewing Marcy about her new book and her journey to publication.

1. West of Paradise is your debut book, but it had a winding road to publication. Can you tell us when you wrote it, when you queried it, why you shelved it, and – most importantly, what made you decide to take it off the shelf and dust it off?

West of Paradise was the third complete book I’d written and I was querying it when I first started blogging in 2009. I got quite a few positive responses but after all was said and done, no takers, and I started working on something else. After seeing a few folks get deals with smaller publishers, I wondered if that might not be a good place for my story and so decided to query again.

2. What was the inspiration behind West of Paradise? Did you set out first to write about time travel? Or about the Old West?

Oh, the Old West for sure. I’ve always loved a good historical romance, one with plenty of romance AND history. I like all those details of what people wore, how they traveled, what they ate. But if I had to pick something specific I’d probably say A Knight in Shining Armor, by Jude Devereaux. It’s a great time travel romance.

3. Having read early drafts and several revisions of this novel, I already know how much research went into your depiction of the Old West. How did you do your research? What details were the most difficult to pin down?

Well, I’m a history major, so I happen to have a lot of books about history and quite a few about the Old West specifically. I also bought a few, and I used the internet where I was lacking. Some of the sites devoted to Tombstone were especially helpful as were some old maps that helped me navigate around the town as it was. It wasn’t difficult, but it was time consuming!

4. I also know you experienced the pain of many historical fiction writers – cutting some of those delicious historical details you unearthed for the sake of pacing. Let me ease the pain by inviting you to share something you cut.

Oh, you are so sweet to offer, but just the first paragraph of what was originally chapter 16 – yup, the whole chapter ended up on the cutting room floor! 

Jim Woolbridge had been a Pinkerton Agent for almost a year when the Adams Express was robbed in 1878. Over $700,000 in cash, bonds, and jewels had been stolen. Robert Pinkerton, who by that time had taken over the management of the business along with his brother William, put Jim on the case with the more experienced Larry Sweet. Jim Woolbridge actually met Larry Sweet for the first time in New York City, where the messenger had been held for questioning. 

5. Many of my readers know you are my partner-in-crime for First Impressions. They may not know it was YOUR idea. Can you tell us what inspired you to offer first page critiques?

I thought it would be fun AND educational for everyone involved, including myself. I still think it’s fun and I learn more with every submission we get.

6. I also happen to know that you write in widely diverse genres. Can you tell us a little about the projects you’ve worked on recently as well as the one in progress?

Oh, wow, well, I’ve written a few books since West of Paradise

GRIMOIRE – A Witchy YA Regency Romance
NO REST – NA Scifi
PEACE AND FORGIVENESS – YA Paranormal – my current wip.

7. What else would you like us to know about you or West of Paradise?

Just that I still love it. Even now after having read it God knows how many times, I still love it. It’s a fun romance throwing modern day people into the past. Think Tombstone meets Romancing Stone :)

To help celebrate Marcy’s debut, I’m giving away a copy of West of Paradise. Simply leave a comment on this post to be entered in the drawing by this Sunday at midnight, and I will buy you a paperback copy! (Trust me. You won't be disappointed. I'm reading a galley of it right now for review purposes and enjoying it all over again.)

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Lots of Good Stuff Happening!

The Spirit Game
It's a little more than a month until The Eighth Day releases, and lots of fun stuff is happening all at once! Reviews are coming in from professionals and advance readers, and I'm starting to schedule signing events. (Check the sidebar for places and dates! Most of them are local to me, but I've got one in Alexandria, Virginia. Any blogging buddies live out that way?)

Last Friday I got a sneak peek at what HarperCollins is brewing for the cover of The Inquisitor's Mark. I can't share it yet, but I can tell you I'm really impressed. It's nothing like I had imagined for this book, but it's thrilling and sinister and perfect.

This past weekend, I got word that The Spirit Game, the short film inspired by my book We Hear the Dead, is available to rent or own through Vimeo on Demand. You can find it HERE and watch it for $0.99 on your computer or other video-playing device.

Finally, I'm confident I'll have my manuscript for Book 3 ready to turn in on time to my editor. I still have some issues to work out and revise in Draft 4, but I'm feeling SO MUCH BETTER about this book than I did back in January. And I know that when my editors gets their hands on it, they'll help me take it to the next level.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Going Hybrid and Getting Elevated: An Interview with Elana Johnson

I’m pretty sure most of you are already acquainted with Elana Johnson, author of the dystopian Possession series from Simon & Schuster. Last month, Elana independently published a new book, a standalone contemporary romance in verse, called Elevated. Today I have Elana here talking about her new book and her new hybrid author status.

The last person seventeen-year-old Eleanor Livingston wants to see on the elevator--let alone get stuck with--is her ex-boyfriend Travis, the guy she's been avoiding for five months.
Plagued with the belief that when she speaks the truth, bad things happen, Elly hasn't told Trav anything. Not why she broke up with him and cut off all contact. Not what happened the day her father returned from his deployment to Afghanistan. And certainly not that she misses him and still thinks about him everyday.

But with nowhere to hide and Travis so close it hurts, Elly's worried she won't be able to contain her secrets for long. She's terrified of finally revealing the truth, because she can't bear to watch a tragedy befall the boy she still loves.
1. In Elevated, which came first, the premise of the story or the idea of writing it in verse?

The premise. I thought of writing about people being stuck in a huge elevator when I went to a planetarium with my kids -- probably 4-5 years ago. I struggled with who should be in the elevator, why they'd be there, what would happen, etc. for a couple of years. (This is how most of my books start -- this slow kernel of an idea.)

I wrote the first 100 pages of the book in regular prose. It just wasn't working. The story was over, dead.

I wanted to stretch myself, and I thought I'd like to try writing in verse. So I took those 100 pages, and I changed them into poetry. I cut A TON -- and suddenly the book/story had new life. Thus, ELEVATED was truly born. 

2. Was your writing process for a novel in verse (and a contemporary romance) any different from the writing process for your dystopian novel series?

Light years different! First off, contemporary is a whole different beast than dystopian or any other kind of plot-based fiction. There's no "bad guy" in contemporary. No villain. No evil forces. Everything is internal; the fight is within as the MC struggles to learn and do what they think is right.

So plotting is different, absolutely. And character development too. As for the actual writing, yes, it's also different. I recently just completed my second verse novel, and I find that I have to have a style. Something on the page that dictates how the verse flows. I don't have to do that in my other novels. So it's an interesting process.

3. The premise -- a girl stuck in an elevator with her ex-boyfriend seems humorous, as does the cover -- but the synopsis seems very serious to me. How would you characterize the mood of Elevated?

High angst. It's all angst, all the time. Ha!

4. I understand you were present at a photo shoot for the cover. Can you tell us about it?

The photo shoot was awesome! My good friend and fellow author, Erin Summerill did it with some teens from her neighborhood. We went to a sports arena to find this cool industrial elevator with two doors (which is harder than you might think to find!). It was a lot of laughing, and trying to get the doors to stay open -- because you know, elevator doors don't like to stay open. It was an awesome experience, and I'm glad we got a cool shot for a unique cover.

5. You recently signed with a new agent. Why then, did you choose to go indie with this book?

My previous agent had shopped this book in the New York traditional market. It got a lot of attention and editors seemed to like it. But no offers came, even when it was passed on to higher-ups and shown at acquisitions. The reason? The verse market is "soft" and "doesn't make publishers money."

That was okay for me. I get it. Publishing is a business, and they only buy books they think will make money. That didn't mean Elevated wasn't a good book, well-written, or worthy of being published. It is all of those things, and I determined to do it myself.

During all that, I split with my first agent and started querying again. I did recently sign with a new agent, and I'm grateful she is okay with the idea of me being a hybrid author!

6. What's next for you?

I hope a sale in the national market for my YA time travel! I am nearing the end of revisions on it and hope to have it on submission soon. After that, I will be releasing another YA contemporary romance novel in verse in September, titled Something About Love.

Thank you, Elana, for sharing your journey and experiences with us! Elevated is available to purchase now, and if you don’t already follow Elana’s blog, you can find her here.

PossessionSurrender and Abandon -- all available now from Simon & Schuster!
Digital short stories Regret (only 99 cents) and Resist (free!) round out the trilogy.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

How To Judge a Teacher

I recently saw a blog post shared on Facebook titled I’m One of the Worst Teachers in My State. It’s worth reading, but if you don’t have time, I’ll summarize it for you.

The name of Simone Ryals, a gifted education teacher in Florida will be printed in newspapers and posted online as “inferior and in need of serious improvement.” Why? Because her students did not score as many points on their fifth grade state test as they did when they took the fourth grade state test. Note: the fifth grade test is not the same as the fourth grade test. Note: standards and criterion changed between the two years and between the two grades. Note: her students scored in the superior range, just not necessarily with as many points as the year before.

This measure supposedly demonstrates that her students did not make adequate growth under her instruction. The teacher, Simone Ryals, explains this with an apt simile: It’s like expecting the members of an Olympic pole vaulting team to all individually earn gold medals every time the Olympics come around, regardless of any other factors affecting their lives, with the bar raised another five inches each go around. 

As a teacher of 25 years who has been required to prep students for a state test throughout most of my career, I know what Ms. Ryals is talking about. Our state test changes every year, so it is pretty much a moving target. We never see the test ahead of time; that would violate test security. And although Pennsylvania has not reached the point of printing teachers’ test scores in the newspaper, we’re headed that way. The state is rolling out a new program designed to track the test scores of every student and pin them to specific teachers.

How DO you judge a teacher?

Personally, I know I’m doing a good job when these things happen:

  • 10 of my students borrow or purchase the book WONDER to follow along as I read aloud or read ahead because they can’t wait to finish it.
  • One of my students writes a creative and funny introduction to his essay after my lesson on how to hook the reader.
  • A boy thanks me for keeping him for recess to re-do his work because he knows I’m trying to help him improve his grades.
  • A reader breaks into a discussion about tributary rivers because he’s just noticed that the root word is tribute and he wants to know what rivers have to do with the tributes in THE HUNGER GAMES.
  • The parents of an extremely shy student who never speaks in class tell me that she recaps my lessons at dinner every night.
  • A tough, streetwise student asks if he can write more on his story at home.
  • A boy with extreme anxiety issues smiles at me for the first time.
  • I get a note on Teacher Appreciation Day like the one in the picture above.

None of these things will ever be measured by a state test and are increasingly of less and less interest to the forces that judge teachers.

Twenty-five years ago, I became a teacher to teach students, not standards.

Some of you already know this, but there will be no twenty-sixth year for me. It’s not widely known in my community yet, but the board minutes detailing my retirement are posted, so it’s only a matter of time before everyone knows. I’m hanging up my teaching hat with a great deal of sadness, a little resentment for the changes that drove me to it, and gratitude that I am spending my final year with a wonderful group of students whose growth I will measure via the “standards” I listed above.

I don’t care how the state measures them.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Sisters and Homicidal Manuscripts: An Interview with Therese Walsh

Recently, I reconnected with an author I exchanged emails with a few years ago. She wrote me and kindly thanked me for a review I wrote for her debut book. (This was back in my Amazon Vine days.) Now, I'm excited that Therese Walsh, author and founder of Writer Unboxed, is a) publishing her second novel and b) here today for an interview!

The Moon Sisters After their mother's probable suicide, sisters Olivia and Jazz take steps to move on with their lives. Jazz, logical and forward-thinking, decides to get a new job, but spirited, strong-willed Olivia—who can see sounds, taste words, and smell sights—is determined to travel to the remote setting of their mother's unfinished novel to lay her spirit properly to rest. Already resentful of Olivia’s foolish quest and her family’s insistence upon her involvement, Jazz is further aggravated when they run into trouble along the way and Olivia latches to a worldly train-hopper who warns he shouldn’t be trusted. As they near their destination, the tension builds between the two sisters, each hiding something from the other, until they are finally forced to face everything between them and decide what is really important.

1. Therese, thanks for being here today! Your debut novel, The Last Will of Moira Leahy, was published in 2009 to glowing reviews. Can you tell us about your path to publication for this novel?

Thank you for your kind words, and for being one of my first reviewers!

The path to publication was littered with sheets of crumpled, inked-up paper; I think it’s fair to say that. I began writing TLWoML shortly after 9/11, because suddenly life felt very unpredictable and I’d wanted to try my hand at adult fiction for some time. (I’d spent a few years writing children’s picture book manuscripts.) I worked for a year on a draft that ended up being overlong by about 30,000 words. I spent another year editing it—really learning how to choose powerful words—and then I sent the story to agents. Rejections began pouring in, but they were different than the rejections I’d received for my children’s picture book manuscripts; these rejections were personalized and contained counsel for making the story stronger.

After a time, I decided to take the advice that resonated with me and completely rework the story—changing the voice, the point of view, and adding an entirely new section called “Out of Time,” which showcased the history of my twin protagonists as they grew and took us up to The Big Event that Changed Everything. That rewrite took about a year, and then I spent another year editing it. This time I found an agent, Elisabeth Weed, who sold the book quickly to Random House in a major two-book deal. I could hardly believe it.

2. According to your author profile on Amazon, the working title of The Moon Sisters was The Book That Tried to Kill Me. Tell us more.

It was that two-book deal. My debut wasn’t born to this world easily, and I worried that I couldn’t write another book on a timeline (tick tock). One day when my piano was being tuned, the tuner and I were discussing my situation. She said, “Maybe you only have one book in you.” That really got into my head. Maybe I did only have one book in me.

But the fear that hindered also saved me. I didn’t want to be a failure, or be in breach of my contract. I sat myself down every day and tried to write even when the words came slowly. I kept a meter of my progress on a sticky note and took a great amount of joy in watching the thick black line I made at the end of each day wander closer to the right-hand side of the note, where “90k” marked the end of the book.

The draft I turned in was a flawed one, but I did turn in a draft. Once you have something, even if it’s not your best work, you can make something better of it. I received editorial notes, and went to work. Then my editor (who was my third editor) left, and I was assigned a fourth editor and some new notes. I again revised the story. And though some of the notes from my new editor—who became my final editor—made me gnash my teeth in frustration and bewilderment because I could not imagine a way around the issues she outlined, they were ultimately what vaulted the story (and me) to the next level.

I did at times think the book was trying to kill me, though.

3. Like your first book, The Moon Sisters is the story of two sisters. This seems to be a common theme in your works. Why do you think this theme calls to you?

I have two sisters, and our relationships are complex and seem to find their way into my stories without conscious thought. For example, TLWoML is about the trauma of one sister following the loss of her twin at the age of sixteen. It was very late in the drafting process when I realized that I had borrowed the core trauma from a family issue: the loss of my father when my youngest sister was sixteen, and her battle to find “a way back.”

The Moon Sisters is also about loss, but over the death of a parent, and explores the very different responses and coping mechanisms of siblings Jazz and Olivia Moon. Though Jazz and Olivia are not based upon my real-life sisters, there are similarities; I think my subconscious mind pulls a lot from our family history as I write. But also: Sisters offer a lot of fodder for fiction.  

4. How are Olivia and Jazz in The Moon Sisters different from Moira and Maeve in your first book? How are they similar?

They’re so different that I have a hard time comparing them at all. Forget apples to oranges; this would be like comparing apples to sneakers.

Olivia is a synesthete—she can see sound and smell sights—and has a whimsical way of viewing the world. Jazz is her opposite; she’s a realist with a huge chip on her shoulder. They are each, in their own way, lost.

That last line would be how all of the sisters are like one another: Maeve and Moira and Jazz and Olivia are all lost—though none of them are lost causes.

5. The keris, a Javanese dagger, brings a mysterious, spiritual, and maybe even supernatural element to your first book. Will we see any similar element in The Moon Sisters (and if so, is it linked to an intriguing item like the keris?)

Olivia’s synesthesia is the element my editor dubbed “almost magical realism” in The Moon Sisters. The way Olivia sees the world (and smells it, and hears it) is unique, and it plays an important role in the story both thematically (there are two ways to look at things) and in other ways. I don’t want to give too much away!

6. Both your books are published by Random House, although under different imprints. How did this come about?

Good question; you are really paying attention! The Shaye Areheart imprint of Random House closed shortly after my debut was released. My two-book deal transferred to Crown, also an imprint of Random House. This also relates to my answer on an earlier question, and partially explains how I had four different editors as I wrote The Moon Sisters.

7. You are also one of the co-founder of Writer Unboxed, an award-winning website. How did you become involved in the creation of this site? What do you think is the secret to its success?

We just celebrated our eighth anniversary at Writer Unboxed, actually. The site began when a friend of mine, Kathleen Bolton, asked if I’d like to start a blog. I crazily said yes. Over the last eight years, the site has morphed into what it is today—filled with wonderful authors and industry experts who are willing to share what they know about the craft and business of fiction. I think the site has become a success because we have such giving, gifted contributors, and that we’ve allowed it to grow into what it really wanted to become—a true community site.

Many thanks to Therese for being with us today! I look forward to reading The Moon Sisters!

Friday, March 7, 2014

First Impressions: THE DEVIL'S NIGHTMARE

Our final First Impressions for March comes from blogging friend Steven Symes. This is the first page of an adult science fiction novel with paranormal elements called THE DEVIL’S NIGHTMARE:

Everything was such a blur, even though simultaneously it seemed like they were moving in slow motion. One moment Christine was returning home from grocery shopping with the baby, the next moment the emotions came crashing over her like a sea deeply reddened by blood. She walked into her room, saw her eleven-year-old son bathed in slick red, on his shirt, his pants, his hands. He was cradling her husband's head, which looked more like the grotesque remains thrown in a butcher's backroom garbage.
                In that moment of panic, one detail struck her more forcefully than seeing her husband of thirteen years dead on the floor: her son was not shedding a single tear. His youthful face had an anguished look painted on it, but other than that he was stoic as he bid goodbye to his father.
                Samuel looked like some sort of a perverse, life-sized doll left crumpled on the ground. The dull grey pistol was still limply holding onto his hand, mocking her with a cold, detached gaze.
                Christine saw something else in Peter's eyes in that moment: hatred. She knew immediately it was not hatred of his father who took his own life. Instead, it was hatred for her and the wrongs he perceived she had done to their family. That hatred had grown in intensity since then, but Peter was not one to display his emotions with regularity. He was more calculating, his mind harboring secrets she suspected went far beyond the large science books he lugged home to supplement his regular high school coursework.
                Since that day, Peter had become something small and damaged, like a vase you accidentally have broken and glued back together, the seams still showing the imperfections that lie deep beneath the surface. On the inside the putrid glue that holds the fragments together oozes and festers in sticky pools, reminding anyone who dares look into the vase that it is and always will be damaged goods.  
                That day changed everything for Christine. She lost her husband and her oldest son. Unknown to her at the time, forces had already been put into motion that would mean she would lose her youngest son, the tiny baby she cradled in her arms, through a series of events that would rock her to the very core. 

This could be a really intense first page with some rearranging of the information! First off, I’d like to see Christine walk into her bedroom in the opening line and be confronted by that horrific scene. Right now, the impact is lessened (at least for me) by confusion over sequence and location. Is she walking into the kitchen with the baby and her groceries, or into her bedroom? 

I’d like to see all the sentences describing Samuel, her husband, pulled together into a single, unforgettable paragraph about just him.  And then, I’d like the description of Peter cradling his head, with some – but not all – of the accompanying information. Yes, I want to know he was tearless, and yes, I want to know he looked at his mother with hatred. But it would be more suspenseful if there was no reflection about him being like a broken vase after that day. There’s probably a place for that image later, but not here on this dramatic first page. 

I do like the part about Christine losing her husband that day and emotionally losing her oldest son, but having no idea that events would soon cause her to lose her younger son and her baby, too. It just needs a bit of tweaking to make it fit at the end of this frozen tableau: Christine in the doorway with the baby, Peter on the floor with his father.

It’s not as simple as “show, don’t tell.” Sometimes, it is very effective to tell. But in this particular scene, we need to be clobbered by showing and enticed to read further by some subtle, very carefully selected telling. Readers, what do you think?

Steven, thanks for sharing your page with us! Marcy will have her own feedback at Mainewords, and I know Steve has posted more of his work on THE DEVIL’S NIGHTMARE at his blog.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014


Our second submission for First Impressions comes from Kristen Wixted. It’s a lower MG (like a long chapter book). It’s humorous realistic fiction, and the title is THE DEAD THINGS COLLECTION.

Chapter 1: Opportunity
 In second grade, Miss Augusta taught Emilio and me the word OPPORTUNITY.  It means a situation that you can make the best of, and get something you want.
We live in Patagonia, Maine. Usually summer doesn’t come here until late June, but this year summer heated up the sky and the street and everything else by the middle of May.
We have this new neighbor.
Her name is Scarlet.
Scarlet has a pool.
The pool is blue and cool-looking. It has a floating dolphin and a waterfall and diving rings, and it’s next to a patio with a little fridge full of soda in shiny cans.
But Emilio and I didn’t get invited to the pool, only the girls on the street did. So Emilio said, “We just have to wait for our opportunity.”
Emilio uses words we learn in school like he’s testing them out, the way you throw around a new football in your yard.
 We waited for our opportunity for five weeks.
And THEN, on the first day of summer, there was screaming across the street! Eight girls were all running from Scarlet’s house to mine in bare feet, screaming,
Hellllp us!
It’s terrrrrrible! Grossss! Disssgusssting!!!
Hellllp, someone helllllp!
 Emilio and I sat in the driveway, watching.
Then he said, “Ike, guess what?”
And I said, “What?”
He said, “This is our opportunity.”

I like how Emilio thinks! This is adorable. I can’t find much to crit in it. Ike’s voice seems exactly right to me for his age, and for the age of the intended readers. I hope that whatever awful thing has grossed out the girls, taking care of it gets Emilio and Ike invited to the pool.

I suppose we could get the narrator’s name earlier, when Emilio first tells him they have to wait for an opportunity, but I don’t really object to it appearing where it does. And I wasn’t in love with the line summer heated up the sky and the street and everything else the way I was with the rest of the passage. Perhaps Kristen could find a simile or metaphor that works as well as the football one further down.

Personally, I believe this opening would resonate with third grade readers. What does everyone else think?

Kristen, thanks for sharing your first page with us! Marcy will have her own thoughts at Mainewords, and Kristen can be found on her blog Don’t Forget the Samovar.

Monday, March 3, 2014

First Impressions: DESCENT

March is here, and coming in like a lion! Today, I’ve got the first page of a YA fantasy titled DESCENT by Kallie Ross, who’s looking for your First Impression:

The pounding of my feet on the dry, cracked Texas dirt is met by the pounding of my heart.
He was there one minute, taking a shortcut through the field behind our houses, then gone the next. The earthquakes have grown more frequent and the ground more unstable. As I stumble, a strong hand steadies me, and I know it’s my neighbor, and Jesse’s older brother, Mateo.
“Jesse!” His cry stretches across a huge rift that is opening at the foot of a natural gas drill. The town conspiracy theorists say that those drills, that are peppered in our subdivisions, are the cause of these quakes. With another tremor, I glance back at Mateo. His lean build will have him caught up to me in a few more strides. Behind him, Alexis’ blonde bob is bouncing and her shorter legs are struggling to keep up. Our slumber party is not going to end with french toast and selfies.
In front of me, the gap continues to grow, and I can’t stop fast enough. No one can save any of us now.
“Ollie!” The last thing I hear is Mateo’s voice as I fall into a void of black.
I’ve been here before. Dreamed this before. Gold specks of dust shimmer around me, it’s peaceful, and as I take a deep breath it makes me feel stronger. It’s heavenly. Reaching out to touch it, the omniscient light scatters away from me and reveals a large room made up of marbled rock. If this were Heaven there would be golden streets, not an aura of it, and my father would be here. The higher the glowing cloud rises, the closer the dark shadows encroach upon me, and it feels as if I'm falling, again. Maybe this is Hell.
“Olivia.” I hear my name being called by a deep calming voice, but don’t want to look away.
A tribal drum beat echoes across the room, and I tear my eyes away from the glorious light to find the drummer. Noticing a lone figure standing in the distance, he waves for me to move toward him. His presence gives off a feeling of familiarity as I move closer, but I’m not walking.
"Hello?" My voice is muffled in my own ears and doesn't echo across the room the same way the steady beat bounces off each jagged wall.

There’s a promising premise here – unexplained tremors, possibly an evil drilling company, and falling into a mysterious world -- but everything moves a little fast for me. There are characters running through a field because of an earthquake, and we don't get to meet any of them or understand what is happening before we are plunged (literally) into a new setting. 

I suggest starting earlier – at the point where something interrupts Alexis and Ollie’s sleepover and sends them out of the house and into the field. There they run into the neighbors, Mateo and Jesse. This will introduce the characters a couple at at time and set up the situation so we can picture who they are and what's happening to them.

I want to know why they run out of the house (instead of the standard duck and cover) and why they keep running once they’re in an open field. (Are they chasing Jesse, a frightened, panicked child?) I want to know why they're running toward the presumed source of the quakes. (Again, is it because Jesse ran that way?) As for Ollie's fall, I definitely want a description of the fall itself before we learn where she landed. -- and it doesn't have to happen on the first page. Readers, what do you think?

Kallie, thanks for sharing your page with us! Marcy will share her thoughts on this page at Mainewords, and you can find Kallie at her blog,