Kurestin Armada is our featured agent for the month of October. I met her at the NJSCBWI conference in June and invited her to the Avalon Writer’s Retreat, so I am happy to introduce her to everyone.
Kurestin began her publishing career as an intern with Workman Publishing, and spent time as an assistant at The Lotts Agency before joining P.S. Literary. She holds a B.A. in English from Kenyon College, as well as a publishing certificate from Columbia University. Kurestin is based in New York City, and spends most of her time in the city’s thriving indie bookstores. She reads widely across genres, and has a particular affection for science fiction and fantasy, especially books that recognize and subvert typical tropes of genre fiction.
Genre Wish List: Picture-Book, Middle-Grade, Young-Adult, Graphic-Novel, Nonfiction, High-Fantasy, Science-Fiction, Mystery, Edgy, Upmarket and Commercial Fiction, Magic Realism, Alternative History, Historical Fiction, LGBTQ (any genre), Graphic Novels, Mystery and Romance.
HERE ARE THE FIRST PAGE RESULTS:
LOST AND FOUND By Sharon Giltrow – PB
“Quick, Grace we’re under attack!” Sterling shouted storming into the living room, pinning himself against the wall. “Did you see that?” He asked pointing towards the window.
“What is it this time Sterling, a dragon?” asked Grace rolling her eyes.
“Nah! Grace, dragons aren’t real. I think it was a beast.”
“Beasts aren’t real either,” said Grace.
Sterling’s shoulders slumped and his lip quivered.
“Don’t worry, Sterling I’ll help you fight the beast,” said Mum. “Grace has lost her imagination. What do we need?”
Sterling looked at his mum and then at his sister. Grace is no fun anymore; I wish she hadn’t lost her imagination.
“String and some long sticks, we’ll make a trap,” said Sterling.
For the next hour, Sterling and his Mum built a beast trap. Sterling saw Grace looking out the window.
Crash Bang!! Later that day Sterling was in the kitchen.
“Sterling what are you doing?” asked Grace.
“I’m making a magical potion,” Sterling said handing Grace a bottle of vinegar and some baking soda.
Grace put them on the kitchen bench and walked out the room calling over her shoulder, “Magic isn’t real.”
Here’s Kurestin’s Review:
LOST AND FOUND, Sharon Giltrow
I love the concept here, I think sibling stories are a perennial favorite and encouraging children to free their imagination is always admirable. That said, the popularity of the topic does put an extra burden on you to make the execution flawlessly charming and to have it feel fresh even if the topic has been tackled before.
Right now, I think you’ve made a mistake in your approach that is very common when people first imagine their picture book manuscript. That is, you’ve described certain actions that will be better told in the illustrations, which takes up your precious word count that could be better used to further develop your story and characters. Also, right now the word choice itself is a bit dry, without a very nice rhythm when read aloud. Don’t be afraid to use more unusual words or sentence structures that will sound particularly charming aloud. You have a good start here, just keep refining and rewriting until every word on the page is perfect!
THE STARLIGHT WITHIN, a YA high fantasy novel, by Athena Greyson.
In the name of the stars, please tell me I wasn’t walking to my death.
I had been roaming for hours, but with my level of fatigue, it felt like countless days and nights. I had awakened in a coffin inside a cave, blown up a mountain, fallen into a waterfall, and swam toward freedom. I was famished, soaked, and weak.
I couldn’t withstand much more. I needed this nightmare to end. I scoffed. My predicament was the epitome of irony. I had been sleeping for ten silver years, frozen in nothingness, and I woke up in a reality that could be more terrifying than the intangible blackness.
My heart and my body were exhausted from the constant efforts to stay alive. I sat on one of the many large cold rocks that accompanied the river, for even silver-eyed people needed to rest. I took in the scenery before me. It was tranquil and empty. The only sound echoed was my heart beating and my lungs breathing. No animals were talking to each other. No birds were flying.
Nothing existed, except utter silence.
Tears were forming. They were about to flow, and unlike the calm river, they would be violent. But my stubbornness had awakened, along with my silver life-source. I refused to be beaten down by the terror of not knowing what had happened to me, by my loneliness, and my exhaustion. And I wouldn’t bow to the merciless weather that was trying to glaciate me, either.
The past and the present were fighting against me, but I refused to lose. A silver-eyed never lost. At least, during my era.
If it was my time to leave the realm of the living, I could have died in that cave where it was ethereal and ceremonious.
Here’s Kurestin’s Review:
THE STARLIGHT WITHIN, Athena Greyson
The first thing I noticed was your word choice. The language immediately builds a level of distance between your story and your reader. Word choice like “my level of fatigue,” “awakened,” and “glaciate”—something about them just feels a little stilted and awkward. I’m looking for that immediate connection with your main character, that window into their mind and personality, and right now it feels more like they’re trying to sound particularly intellectual for an audience.
Additionally, I don’t know what’s going on here in the first page, which is dangerous because I’m likely to get bored or distracted easily. There’s some recap, and then our main character sits and stares at a river thoughtfully, which doesn’t make for very engaging reading. I also don’t yet know the importance of things being silver, which makes the repeated stress on the quality a bit distracting.
You do have the threads of what could be a very interesting setting here, and I’d love to see more of a sense of purpose in this scene to draw that out. Make sure your reader has something to latch on to and that your word choice is enhancing your story, not distracting from it.
UNDER THE EARTH by Alex Hans Martin – Science-Fiction
They plastered the posters everywhere. “Send Them Home.” Cracked, creased, and worn, they swept in and out and between the kids running on the pavement. They littered the streets, the profiles of mothers and fathers, farmers and entrepreneurs. On walls, new, younger faces covered those who had disappeared. The city’s eyes stayed open through the nights and Lady Liberty stood firm at America’s border, no longer a beacon to a better future but a torch chasing you home. My father encouraged it, yelling from the comfort of his recliner. He sat on the edge, shoes removed, undershirt untucked, pointing his finger at the television.
“Look at her. She stands for freedom. I did not raise you, work for your food and your education, to live in a world where I can’t order a burger in English. It’s treason, to take out from under us the values and traditions that built this country. Lady Liberty will stand firm, turning those away that don’t share our morals.”
I used to argue with him. Long, spitting, tirades over and through our frozen dinners. My mother, elbows on her knees, cried for us to stop. She would reach for my hand and squeeze, begging me not to rile my father any further. As I grew older, I understood. She was the one that had to share a room with him when we went to bed, not me. I moved soon after, ceasing the arguments. I chose New York City via New Orleans, Tallahassee, and Philadelphia. My father refused to send any money and I slipped out to find a new home when rent was due.
It was in the city that I met Pots. He introduced himself, scrubber in one hand and the other outstretched.
“Put ‘er there.” He grabbed my hand and let go only after he introduced me to three regulars, two cooks, and the special of the day. “Olive You Anchovies.”
Here’s Kurestin’s Review:
UNDER THE EARTH, Alex Hans Martin
There’s way too much summary in your first page, and it feels more like a synopsis than the real story. This makes me suspect that you haven’t begun things in the right place. This synopsis-like jumping around in time and place also gives your character an extremely distant voice, and I don’t feel like I’m building a connection with them.
As for the writing itself, much of this could be made sharper. The bit of dialogue present is stilted and feels like a plot convenient bit rather than something that enhances the character and establishes voice. The sentence structure could use more variation and attention to rhythm, as many of the sentences feel choppy when read together.
The very first paragraph hints at a cool world and concept, like something that sounds relevant today but with an extra twist, but I’ve lost that with the paragraphs afterward. I’d love to see this tackled again with an entirely different opening moment.
ONE THOUSAND STARS THAT BIND by Ashley Ruggirello – YA Fairytale Retelling
Sometimes I have to catch myself, as if I haven’t been breathing for who knows how long. Now’s one of those moments. I fill my lungs as if they’ve been deprived of oxygen all day. Of course they haven’t. Air is a necessity to life, after all.
It’s between each breath that it’s easy to do the things I’m least proud of. Or most proud of. I guess it depends on your perspective, and your perspective is molded by how many years you’ve spent on the streets.
And I’ve lost count.
I look down. It’s in my hands, swaddled in muslin and still warm, like a baby. I’m holding onto it as if it were one, too. Precious. Delicate. The cozonac loaf, sweet and filled with poppy seeds, should keep me alive and full for the remainder of the day, but that’s just today. That’s if I don’t share, which I always do.
But that’s all if I don’t get caught.
The loud and harsh tongues screaming from behind tell me it’s not my lucky day. I suck in as much air as my lungs can manage, and then a little more after that. With my wild mane of dark brown, tightly-wound ringlets corralled to one side, I pull the large cowl hood up and over my head, cloaking my figure, until I become a silhouette. A shadow. The cowl wraps around my neck and shoulders, but leaves my arms, and the space above my corset, exposed. I’m not concerned; my skin is dark enough to disguise me. I melt into the growing darkness as the day’s eve approaches.
Unfortunately, this time I’m not sure if it’ll be enough. They’re still on my tail. And gaining.
Here’s Kurestin’s Review:
ONE THOUSAND STARS THAT BIND, Ashley Ruggirello
I don’t love the hedging that appears in the beginning (ex. “of course they haven’t” and “I guess it depends on your perspective”). It takes away from the power of your sharp lines, and in general builds a feeling of an indecisive character who’s not great at getting to the point (which works if that’s your intention!). On that topic, I LOVE the line “It’s between each breath that it’s easy to do the things I’m least proud of.” Make that your opening line, lead with your best stuff!
There was also something that struck me as off about her hair/dress/skin description. It was a bit all at once, and sometimes very dramatic word choice can be a turn off when I’m not yet lulled into the story. The bit about the “loud, harsh tongues screaming” plus the description of her (including the corset) all lent itself toward a costume-y feeling. Keeping your description more spread out and restricting some of the more dramatic word choice in the very beginning will prevent me from being thrown out of the story before I’ve built up my connection with the main character. With a little bit of finessing and a slightly more subtle touch, this will be a very strong first page.
Thank you Kurestin for sharing your time and expertise with us. Please keep in touch.