Posted by: Kathy Temean | June 1, 2012

Free Fall Friday – Mellisa Sarver

Melissa Sarver, agent at Elizabeth Kaplan Literary Agency is our quest critiquer for May.  She is a graduate of Boston University and brings with her the experience she received by working with several agencies: Waxman Literary Agency, Brick House, and Imprint Agency (now FinePrint).

She looks for contemporary/realistic fiction, both literary and commercial; mysteries; urban fantasy; magical realism, and issue-based stories. She’s drawn to dark tales with brilliant prose and strong voice as well as quirky stories with a fresh sense of humor, and heartbreaking romances. She especially enjoys multicultural stories and similarly emotional stories with dystopian themes. She also considers Middle Grade fiction and Picture Books and you will meet here at the conference next weekend.

Melissa picked four first pages to read from what was submitted in May.  Here they are: 

Marty Preston

Untitled MG for the May 26th prompt.
I didn’t want to dress like a boy for Colonial Day, but I had no choice. Mom was working crazy hours, and couldn’t shop for my outfit until the night before. There was nothing left in my size at Old Navy─that’s where all my friends’ mothers bought colonial dresses for them. So I was stuck wearing soccer socks that I dyed with tea bags, a plain yellow pajama top, and my brother’s baseball pants, cinched at the waist and rolled up to my knees. In 90-degree heat.

“I’m sorry, sweetie. I blew it.” Mom shook her head, mad at herself, when I came downstairs the morning of Colonial Day in my makeshift get-up. “I should’ve ordered something online.”

“It’s okay.” I forced a smile. “It’ll all come together once I put the tricorne hat on at school.”   Of course, the hat would cover the colonial-esque hair ribbon, the only girl item I was wearing.

Things hadn’t been easy since Dad lost his job, so I kept my disappointment to myself. But the truth was, I really wanted one of those frilly white sundresses. Especially because my colonial family included Doug Hollis, the cutest boy in the seventh grade, at least in my opinion. (My best friend Jenna thought Ryan Tapler was the cutest.)

“That doesn’t look as bad as you made it sound.” Jenna whispered, when I took my seat next to hers in homeroom. She had on the exact dress I would’ve liked.

“I feel like a goofball,” I said. “I debated blowing off the theme. But I decided not to be  a party pooper.” Maybe I made the wrong decision. No other girls were dressed like boys.

After the flag salute, we shuffled outside.  First stop, mock trial. Jenna’s fat her played the judge, and her mother was the accused pig thief. “Guilty as charged! To the stocks!” Jenna’s dad said. Everyone laughed and we  lined up to have our photos taken in the pillory.

“Who’s the funny-looking boy in the stockade?” Tony Parisi said, in his usual snide tone.

“Shut up, Parisi,” Doug said. “Even in a boy outfit, Candace is pretty.”

My eyes widened. I planned to shout it from the rooftops later. Doug Hollis thinks I’m pretty.


I think this is a great introduction to a sweet middle grade novel filled with young romance but also dealing with some very real issues of unemployment and busy working parents trying to make ends meet.  The main character deals with some of these issues in an age-appropriate way by being honestly disappointed but not overly bratty or immature in response.  I’m not sure the dialog works in all places: “blowing off the theme” seems an unlikely phrase for a character this age and also “goofball” and “party pooper” make her seem a tad square. 

A nit-picky item: I would avoid using real stores like Old Navy so as not to date your manuscript.  Lastly, you might want to reconsider introducing so many characters (Doug Hollis, Ryan Tapler, Tony Parisi) on the first page, especially if they aren’t going to be prominent throughout the story.  The last line is really cute and I love how you incorporated the illustration in a clever, less literal way.


Chrissa J Pedersen

Chapter 1 – A Young Gertrude Bell: Dreams of the Desert (Historical Fiction)

I climb a ridge of rock rising out of the desert sands.  The air is alive with static. There’s a storm coming. Reaching the top I see a tsunami of sand rolling toward us. I call down to Ahmed, “Gather the camels.  The mother of all sand storms is headed right for us!”

The dragoman’s sing song voice floats up like a prayer. “Lady Bell, come down it’s not safe.”

“Unload the camels first. I’ll keep an eye on the storm.”

Without the camels we would perish.  And our treasures, so recently uncovered, would be swallowed up by the sands.  I take a sip from my canteen. The water is warm, tasteless and dangerously low. The camels groan as they kneel to the ground.  Men’s voices, yelling in Arabic, wind their way up the slope. A scorpion scurries across the gravel, its tail curled — ready for combat.  I pull my dagger out and jab the point through its abdomen then flick it into the bushes. The ground is pulsing with heat. I think of England – cool, lush and green.

“Gertrude Margaret Lowthian Bell, what are you doing up there?”

Florence’s voice rips the veil from my desert world. The camels fade into the desert sands along with their cargo of ancient artifacts. At that moment, I hate my step-mother.

“Where is your skirt? Wearing trousers is n ot proper for a young lady. Get down here this instant. Your brother’s need help with their studies,” says Florence.

“Climb in a skirt? Now that would be improper,” I say under my breath.

Florence calls up to me. “What?”

“Nothing, I’m coming.”

Climbing down off the roof, I hear Ahmed whisper, “We will wait for your return, Lady Bell.”


This page is filled with energy and does a great job establishing dramatic tension right away.  I think the title is too long; Dreams of the Desert works on its own. A few places where I had questions or thought could use clarification or modification: 

You’ve told me it’s historical fiction so phrases like “the mother of all sand storms” feels too modern a catch phrase. 

 Is “the dragoman” Ahmed? Also, what is a dragoman and why is he the one with the camels here? 

What are the “treasures” they recently uncovered? 

Can you describe the Arabic language a bit, what it sounded like in contrast to what language the protagonist speaks?  I’m uncertain as to why she also mentionsEngland.  Is that where she’s from?  Adding yet another place on her mind on top of the reality and this dream world seems too much. 

The ending was a bit confusing to me: Was the storm and the camels all a dream, the protagonist playing make believe?  I think this needs to be made clearer when she’s pulled from the scene.  I like the line “Florence’s voice rips the veil from my desert world” but I’d like to be more firmly rooted in the current place and time for the lines that follow.  


Karin Lefranc


“Don’t worry, Oscar, I’ll save you.” Amber heaved herself up the wobbly ladder and reached out to grab the terrified cat. Oscar, however, had other plans. He leaped through the air and landed on a chunky Oak branch instead. Stunned but very pleased with himself, he looked up at Amber, and if cats could wink, she was sure he would have.

“I got Dad’s roof ladder out of the barn and spent an hour trying to hoist it up here.” Amber liked saving people and animals. She did not like it when her missions failed. Adventure was not easy to find in western Connecticut where the most exciting thing to happen was losing power for three days because of a fall snow storm.
Amber looked down at Oscar who was now stretched out on the grass like a ferret, relieved to be back on solid earth. Her mission had failed, but she was smiling anyway because she was on top of the world. Okay so maybe it wasn’t Mount Everest, but she had climbed Mount 56 Lynden Lane, not a bad accomplishment for 10:30am on a Saturday morning.

She felt powerful looking out over the dusty road that sliced through the cornfields towards Coopersville. The small town didn’t have a lot to brag about other than not one but two delis—and the Coopersville Aerodrome, featuring cool airplanes from long ago.

As if on cue she heard aloud “BRRRAAAA!”  Amber looked up to see that it was a P-51 Mustang. The silver plane with the white star, known as “t he most famous plane of World War II,” looped around, wrapping the sky in a smoky ribbon. Amber knew all about the P-51 and the B-26 and all the other famous World War planes—her dad had taken her to the Aerodrome hundreds of times to see thrilling air shows with acrobatics, balloon bursting, and dog fights.

The plane circled over the farm and returned towards the airfield. Well that’s that she thought, until she glimpsed a dark shadow falling from the sky. She squinted into super hero focus. The shadow was a person falling straight down towards the barn.


I’m curious to know what happens next and how Amber gets involved.  I hope the story turns into a bit of a mystery.  Who is this man who fell out of the sky? 

The first paragraph is great in telling an actual event, establishing Amber as a helpful girl who cares about animals.  But in the following paragraph, it is unclear to whom she is saying “I got Dad’s roof ladder out of the barn…”  Is she saying this to the cat?  Thinking it to herself?  I’m not sure what she has climbed, though: a tree, her house, a hill?  I thought it was a tree but then when she makes reference to an address, I got to thinking house; but it absolutely needs to be known right away. 

I think these paragraphs spend too much time describing Cooperville as a sleepy town where not much happens, and her own desire for adventure.  More could be accomplished with less.  Then, in paragraph four, be careful when you say “as if on cue” because you aren’t referencing something she’s doing or saying but description or narration.  Overall I think this entire page can be tightened (including the title, which is too complicated) and will be the start of an exciting adventure or mystery story.


Marilee Haynes

The Un-Best Friending of Marigold O’Leary

Marigold O’Leary stood at the tip-top of the garage roof, hands planted on her hips and a smile on her face that said she was really happy with herself. I knew that smile. Marigold O’Leary was really happy with herself at least five times a day. She was my best friend. But not on purpose. It was one of those best friends because our parents both decided to move to Snapdragon Lane when we were four years old rather than one of those best friendships where you actually pick each other. Because the super deep down dark secret of my insides was that I never would’ve picked Marigold O’Leary.

Marigold was good at everything. She was smarter, prettier and more talented than I was. My mom acted like those things weren’t true, but it wasn’t any use pretending. Marigold rode horses, danced ballet and jazz, and could do seven backflips in a row. But you shouldn’t ask her to show you unless you really want to see her do it. Because she’d show you all day long.

I tried to climb up to the top of the garage first. Just this once, I wanted to be first. But before I’d gotten halfway up the rickety ladder, Marigold said, “I don’t think you’re going to make it, Piper.”

And it was like she put a hex on me, because the next thing I knew, the rung of the ladder wobbled and my foot slipped. I skidded down the side of the garage, scraping my leg from knee to ankle as I went.

“Wow, you can see all the way to school from here.” Marigold turned her head this way and that. “It’s too bad you fell. Again.”

Standing on the ground feeling the blood trickle down my leg, I decided something. Fifth grade started in twelve days and one thing I knew for sure is that I didn’t want to start this year the way I’d started every other year. I didn’t want to be Marigold O’Leary’s best friend anymore. Because being her best friend meant sitting with her
at lunch every day – and giving her half of my dessert even when it was my favorite- and always doing what she wanted to do at recess.

I wanted to pick my own friends and do what I wanted to do. The time had come for an un-best friending. But how?


I like how the first paragraph establishes voice and point of view and even conflict.  The main character is annoyed at this girl she must be friends with because their parents are friends.  I like Piper right away and I think it’s a scenario to which many readers can relate.  Right at the end of this page we know what the main conflict of the book will be and it’s a perfect middle grade scenario.  I can anticipate all the scenes at school that will follow. 

The dialog works well here – it’s not overdone and we get a complete sense of how pushy and snotty Marigold is to Piper.  However, I thought maybe the second paragraph makes it seem that Piper is jealous of Marigold instead of her actually disliking her and finding her overwhelming.  Piper doesn’t quite have the same opinion that Marigold has of herself. Overall this page is off to a very good start in establishing a cute, relatable story that appeals to the middle grade reader.

Thank you Mellisa.  I am sure everyone will get a lot out of reading your comments. See you next weekend.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. It’s really amazing how one picture can bring out so many different stories. T


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