Posted by: Kathy Temean | August 31, 2012

Free Fall Friday – Sarah Cloots

Editorial Consultant Sarah Cloots generously offered to critique the Writer’s First Page Picture Prompt for August. She is a graduate of Rice University and the Columbia Publishing Course; as well as the New York University courses MBA Fundamentals, Fundamentals of Copyediting, and Writing for Children; and MediaBistro’s YA Novel Writing. I met her when she was an editor at Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Children’s Books, for four and a half years.

She began her publishing career as a reporter for The Kingwood Observer newspaper and as an intern at Bloomsbury Children’s Books. She has worked on books for young readers of all ages, from board books through young adult novels. Here it the link to her website:

We had a lot of submissions this month, so many good submission did not get critiqued.  I certainly enjoyed reading them.  Hope you will continue to submit. 

Here are the four first pages critiques by Sarah:


by Cecile M. Than

Anybody can buy London Bridge and rebuild it in the Arizonza desert.  Only a master magician can steal the London Eye and hide it in plain sight in an Iowa cornfield.  Only me, Hari Hudunit, a fifteen-year-old magician extraordinaire about to send shock waves through the old fashioned science of illusion using the everyday technology of 2210.   Only problem is, so far, nobody’s noticed.

Now -you -see- it- now -you -don’t only works if someone’s looking.  When Houdini made the elephant vanish in New York City nearly 300 years ago, the gasps of the 5,000 people in the audience were heard around the world. I know.  I watched the performance through the library’s biblioscope over and over again.  You’d think at least one of the ten million people living in London today would have noticed a 443 foot tall national monument wasn’t creaking in the breeze anymore, or at least one of the fifty human farmers who work out here with the robot injectors and cutters would have realize this wasn’t another new fangled giant combine.

I thought people were more intelligent nowadays.  I mean, can I really be the only teen ager on the planet who figured out how to reconfigure Houdini’s mirrors, retrofit a toaster and a vacuum, and make a national treasure disappear and reappear?  It’s the old head-box trick souped up for the twenty-third century, folks, c’mon.  I realize now that the Eye disappeared from everybody’s sight  long before I took it.  It’s been teetering on the banks of the Thames so long everybody in London takes it for granted that it’s still there, even when it isn’t. Iowa has seen so many changes in corn farming that a giant wheel that suddenly appeared in the sky’s nothing to get excited about. 

Magicians know people see with their minds, not their eyes, but magicians also depend on at least one person who admits everyone sees that way.  Goes back to the little boy who knew the emperor didn’t have any clothes on.  A trick has to be recognized as a trick. I’m lighting up the Eye tonight hoping to wake up that one little boy — or girl — who’s going to sound the alarm and make me and my illusions famous. 

Here’s Sarah:

This definitely had me intrigued and wanting to read more—from the very first sentence. I really liked the premise of this, and the voice, and I know kids will too. It’s great that Hari’s 15, as kids younger than 15 will be the ones who want to read this and look up to him.

I did wonder if it was actually 2210 in the book, or if Hari had somehow managed to bring the technology of the future to the present. I also wondered what Hari meant by a huge Ferris wheel somehow not sticking out in an Iowa cornfield—it’s one thing if Londoners don’t really notice its presence or absence anymore, but for it not to be noticeable on a flat field in Iowa? But maybe as the story continues it will make sense—after all, maybe in 2210 Iowa cornfields don’t look like they do in 2012. I also wasn’t sure what the “head-box trick” referred to. Finally, I have to mention that I noticed several punctuation and spelling errors in these paragraphs, so make sure you always quadruple-check for those!

All in all though, a very promising start that would definitely have me turning the page to read more. Wonderfully creative response to the prompt!

THE WHEEL by Lauri Meyers

            “I hate those guys!”  I yelled as I ran through the corn field.    I knew this field better than anyone.   I took a path over gopher holes hoping to trip them up.   It’s easy to lose your sense of direction after a fall.

            I wiped some snot on my sleeve and snorted away tears.   I was going to run until I could run no more.  Until I no longer cared what Jimmy Buffino thought about me.   I was a lousy fighter, but I could run.

            So when Jimmy and his gang showed up, that’s what I did.  I regretted leaving my back pack on the ground though.  My uncle would be mad.  I could just tell him I forgot it.  It wouldn’t take much convincing to make him believe I was absent-minded. 

            I guess I was running to my uncle’s house.   What would he say about the bruise on my cheek?  He told me I would be in big trouble if I got in any more fights at school.  I suppose he would probably accept I was forgetful and clumsy.

            What else could I tell him?  I was being bullied?  No way.  I didn’t need to be that kid.  Everyone knew Jimmy took my lunch money every morning and pushed me around every afternoon.   Jimmy was a bully.   Making me say it just made the adults seem like bullies too.

            Even though the corn stalks were hitting me on occasion, running helped me forget.   Things would be better if I could just run all the way to the house.   I dodged a big rock, but I was stopped in my tracks.

             “What in the world?” I said between heavy breaths.  I knew every gopher hole, but I didn’t remember seeing this ferris wheel here before.  I walked slowly toward the ride. 

            The wind picked up making the stalks sway like they were alien creatures.   If Jimmy made it past the gopher holes, he would be scared off by the corn.  Especially with night falling, no one would want to be in the corn field.   

Here’s Sarah:

Great burst of emotion right at the beginning! It really gives you the sense of urgency needed to care about this character from the get-go. The voice and age (I assume late elementary school or junior high?) are very believable as well.

There were some parts where I felt you should have used the past perfect tense rather than just past tense: for example, “He’d told me I would be. . . “ rather than “He told me I would be. . .“

I also didn’t really understand this section and how it came it its conclusion: “What else could I tell him? I was being bullied? No way. I didn’t need to be that kid. Everyone knew Jimmy took my lunch money every morning and pushed me around every afternoon. Jimmy was a bully. Making me say it just made the adults seem like bullies too.” Maybe work it out with a critique group and see what they think for better wording?

Additionally, I thought it was jarring that the narrator discovers the Ferris wheel, but then shifts over to thinking about Jimmy being scared of the corn. First off, I’d be surprised that a tough bully would be scared of corn shadows, but I also felt you weren’t giving the shock of seeing the Ferris wheel there its full due.

All in all, I think you have a great start here, you just need to polish it up a bit for pacing and clarity. Great job!


by Tricia Idrobo

Robbie raced over to the county fair grounds to watch the workmen set up.  First the merry-go-round sprang up, then the Ferris wheel and his favorite, the giant slide. 

At home he asked his parents, “When can we go to the fair?”

“We’ll go on Saturday after Dad finishes a project he’s working on,” Mom said. 

“Yippee!!” exclaimed Raquel and Lissi, his younger sisters.

Robbie dreamed about the fair all week.  Saturday morning he put on his cowboy shirt and tied a blue bandanna around his neck.  But just as they were about to leave, the telephone rang.

 “Aunt Clara’s not feeling well.  Dad and I need to check on her,” Mom said.

 “But today’s the last day of the fair,” Robbie said.

“We’ll go later, if we’re back in time,” Dad said.  “Otherwise, there’s always next year.”

“Next year??  Noooo!” the children cried.

Their neighbor, Mrs. Endler, came to watch them.  They sat glumly, watching Bugs Bunny cartoons. 

After two shows, Mrs. Endler went to make some tea.

“Who wants to spend the whole day watching TV?” Robbie said.  “I’m going to ask Mrs. Endler to take us to the fair.”  He strode to the kitchen.

Mrs. Endler shook her head.  “Sorry, dear.  I’m too old to be running after three kids.  Wait for your parents.”

Back in the living room, Raquel frowned.  “We shouldn’t have asked.  We should have just sneaked out.”

Lissi’s eyes widened.  “No!  We’d get in BIG trouble.” 

Robbie didn’t want to sneak out, either.  “We don’t have any money,” he reminded Raquel.

Here’s Sarah:

(I love how this picture prompt has brought out such different ideas in everyone!) This is a very sweet, young-feeling story. At first I thought it might even be a picture book, but as I went further I thought maybe more chapter book or early reader? It does seem to be moving quite fast, which is great, but make sure the pacing works for whatever length you have planned.

I like the adventure that we’re gearing up to here, with the kids trying to figure out how to get to the fair on the last day. You’ve really captured the excitement and frustration that kids this age would feel over not getting to go to the fair, and I wanted to turn the page and see how they would solve their problem of no money and wanting to sneak out.

This is simple and sweet so far, so I’d definitely want to read more. Just make sure you are making this story unique so that it stands out from the rest of the market.

UNTITLED by Karen Bell

The hum progressed eerily in my dream then intensified to the loud whirring that woke me.  I was scared to death but I remained immobile. Beams of light danced in my dark room. Cornstalks wafted through the night air and now seemed to be the source of the din. My mind flew to my grandparents. They must have heard it too.  But the house remained quiet inside. 

I was used to weird noises and lights at night at home.  The townhouse development next to the interstate made me immune. But out here not even a streetlight. Chirping crickets were the norm. This new intrusion chilled me. 

Out here, referred to my Gram and Poppy’s farm in rural Pennsylvania.  I visited every summer since I was five. I loved it here when I was younger but now that I was twelve I would have preferred spending a little less than a whole month. It would have been more exciting home in the suburbs with my friends playing, Manhunt, outside, or even inside playing the guys in our favorite video game, Call of Duty.

Poppy’s idea of fun was raking up fresh grass cuttings or repairing fence sections. Pushing his hat back on his head, he would declare that it built character. Gram was more fun because she usually had some fresh-baked pie or cookies to accompany her tedious tasks.

It had been a boring summer night before it happened.  It was one of those hot August nights when the air just hung heavy and motionless. I remembered that I had wished for some excitement. Poppy and I had been playing chess earlier in the evening but it just wasn’t cutting it for me. Since there wasn’t any television either bedtime came early.

I tried to sit up but I couldn’t and remained paralyzed in my bed. My curtains suddenly began to move. Swiftly, they blew open and cast an image. I screamed as I gazed upon the shadow of a giant Ferris-wheel-like object plastering my room. Terror tormented me for the next several hours.

Here’s Sarah:

Great setting and characters you’ve developed here! I like how you talk about Gram and Poppy and smoothly and effortlessly go into describing them and their farm, etc.

I like the mood of the first paragraph, but I wonder if the vocabulary is a bit too formal for a twelve-year-old, especially since he or she doesn’t really use that language as the sentences progress. (Will we know soon if the narrator is a boy or girl?)

I also would do a bit of rearranging of the paragraphs for better flow. Imagine that they are numbered 1 through 6—I would do the order like this: 1, 2, 6, 5 (and then add “out here” to the end of that last sentence), 3, 4. Does that make sense? What do you think? I was just afraid that adding in all that exposition in the middle of intense action was jarring.

I definitely wanted to read more of this—it is chillingly exciting! Just watch the flow and your language.


Thank you Sarah for sharing your expertise with us.  And thank you Courtney Atumn Martin for providing the picture inspiration.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. It doesn’t surprise me you got so many submissions this month, Kathy! I know I was inspired by Courtney’s wonderful painting 🙂 Every time there’s a first page prompt, I’m always fascinated by the many directions everyone’s imaginations go from the same image. Thanks for another wonderful learning experience, Sarah 🙂


  2. This really was inspirational art. Thanks Sarah for the feedback for the pages listed. All great advice to keep in mind as we write.


  3. Thank you Kathy and to Sarah for the valuable input. We’re very lucky to have Kathy and this great web. Courtney’s illustration really put me in a mood to create. Thanks for the challenges.


  4. I agree with the other comments – Courtney’s picture was too hard to resist.
    These 23 line prompts are great practice – it is at once hard to make them short enough and hard to make them long enough.

    Thank you to Sarah for the great critiques teaching us about pacing, world-building, character development, etc.


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