Posted by: Kathy Temean | June 28, 2013

Free Fall Friday – June Results

bookopenI’d like to thank Anna Olswanger from Liza Dawson Associates for sharing her time and expertise with us this month. Your first page is the first thing anyone sees of your story, so the more we can hone the beginning, the better off we will be in writing a successful book. I know we can all learn from these sessions. Even if it is not your first page, you can make note of the thoughts of an editor or agent after they have critiqued the page.

Here are the four first pages picked this month and Anna’s thoughts:

Hope Grietzer                    The Carousel Keeper                Middle Grade Novel

A parade of green swells rose and sank in the murky water beneath the boat. The deck of the ferry dipped again, and for a moment Sadie felt weightless.

“Just ten more minutes,” she thought, gripping the rail as the ferry climbed the crest of the next swell. A gusty wind tugged at her baseball cap like a passing pickpocket, and Sadie’s hand flew up to protect her cap. She squeezed her eyes shut.

“Bit choppy today,” a voice said.

The steward approached, the ends of his white jacket flapping in the breeze like seagull

wings. Red hair hugged his head, and his ears stuck out like pot handles.

“Anything I can do for you, Miss?”

“Can you send me back to Ohio?” Sadie forced a small grin.

“I would, except I promised your uncle I’d deliver you to the island safe and sound.” He

glanced around the crowded ferry. “Follow me.”

Sadie eased away from the rail. The mischievous deck sank before her sneaker could reach it, and then rose so that her foot smacked it hard.

“Feels like I’m walking on the moon,” she thought, hobbling after the steward.

The man paused and gestured toward a vacant seat. “The ride should be smoother here.”

A mother with a squirmy toddler shifted to make room as Sadie sank onto the bench. Across the aisle, a wiry man in a brown suit coat gave Sadie and the child a nervous glance and tugged his briefcase closer. Sadie gave him her best smile but he scowled back, his thick eyebrows drawing together like a blackbird’s wings.

Sadie wished her brother Jamie was here. He had a knack for making friends. But Sadie

traveled alone, sailing toward Summer Island while her parents flew to Brazil. They broke the

news to her last week.


The Carousel Keeper

I would keep reading beyond the first page to find out what life will be like for Sadie on Summer Island. (Will she find a friend? Will she see the steward again? What is her uncle like?)

I do think some minor details are distracting: the image of red hair hugging the steward’s head, for example. What is the point of that detail, or of the detail of his ears sticking out? It feels as though the author may be trying to fill up space. The deck being “mischievous” feels like overwriting, and what is it like to walk on the moon? The reader has been experiencing the choppiness of the ride, so would walking on the moon be “choppy?”

Is there a significance to the bird imagery? The stewards’s white jacket flaps like seagull wings. The man in the brown suit has eyebrows that draw together like a blackbird’s wings. Make it clear if an image is part of a theme. Otherwise, the details seem arbitrary.

The hint of Jamie at the end is nice.

Annina Luck Wildermuth

Ned Bunting, Ghost Spotter & the Ghost with the Hooded Cloak Middle Grade (ages 8 – 12)

Ned was two hours into his watch, crouched behind the old elm at Walnut Hollow graveyard, when he spotted his first ghost of the night.  Of course, he’d seen all kinds of ghosts the week before when he was still in training with his older brother Tom, but this was different. He was alone now.

As his luck would have it though, he could already see that this one was a poor excuse for a ghost. All its potentially distinguishing marks were obscured by a voluminous hooded cloak.

The horse it rode was equally undistinguished, poking its way among the graves, slow as molasses.

How am I supposed to identify this ghost? wondered Ned, starting to worry. As Walnut Hollow’s new ghost spotter, he was supposed to identify and log in all the ghosts who came through the town and make sure that they were obeying the local haunting laws.

He fumbled now to produce Ghosts of the Thirteen Colonies & Their Classification from inside his vest. Satisfied that the horse and rider were making slow progress at best, he thumbed the book’s worn pages, his lantern flickering beside him. Ghosts were portrayed in great detail with identifiable characteristics.  There was General Whitelsby, the angry, old red-coat in his unmistakable British uniform and Abigail, the Quaker in her fancy white neck ruff. The mad horseman from Sleepy Hollow always carried his head under his arm. Ned’s eyes darted to the graveyard, and he groaned inwardly. Nothing.

And then the wind whipped up, blowing through the tree’s branches and whistling its way between the gravestones. It twirled around the ghost and lifted its cloak into the air to reveal a small, cross girl in the frilliest dress Ned had ever seen. She looked straight at him and wailed: “How am I ever going to accomplish my mission, now that I’ve been so rudely unmasked?”


Ned Bunting, Ghost Spotter

This first page ends on a nice note of suspense, so I would want to read further, but the first sentence is too long and clunky. Try to clean it up, since that is an editor’s first impression of your manuscript.

It’s not clear why you have the detail that this ghost was a poor excuse. Tom is logging in ghosts and making sure they obey the local haunting laws, so his luck is not that this ghost is a poor excuse, but that it has no distinguishing marks.

The use of a book implies that this is a contemporary story. Is that what you intend, or is the story set in the past? If it’s set in the past, then shouldn’t the book be manuscript pages with handwritten notes?

When Ned’s eyes dart to the graveyard, he groans. If he’s groaning because he still  can’t identity this ghost, then make it clear that he is looking at the ghost, not at the graveyard (in general) to eliminate any confusion.

The last paragraph is perfect.

Liliana Erasmus – Song Of The Sentinel – paranormal middle-grade.

What is father doing here? I told him to stay out of it. This isn’t his battle to fight. His glorious days of vigilance are over. Gone. It’s my turn now. Why doesn’t he get it? He is dead. I am not. And he knows I’m here, I can feel his light shifting closer. His presence. My lantern blows out.

“Go. Away,” I urge him in silence.

I don’t even turn around to look into his empty eyes, or at that ridiculous horse that carries him around, for what? To attract all the hungry creatures in the neighborhood and make my life more miserable than it already is? I have to keep position and here he comes, shimmering behind me like a lighthouse signaling, Look here! You see ‘m? Now suck his life out!

They’re coming. I’m not sure how many this time. Three? Four?

“Father, for God’s sake, leave! Let it be.”

Once again, he backs off, his light dimming and I know he’s further away, but never for long, never too far from danger… from me.

The September wind has fallen, the trees stand breathless, moonlit tombs lie in repose and I still get that paralyzing chill down my spine. The buzzing in my ears is getting louder, it’s growing until it becomes a constant whistle in my head, ticking me off. If I jump now, they’ll know what to do with me. I’m on my own. They are with one, five… eleven, damn! I have to wait for them to stick their tongues into the earth before making any sound. One of them is not sniffing the graves. It’s holding back for some reason, tilting its snout in the air, tail high and stiff, while that foul smell of decay reaches my nose, making me gag. I swallow the sourness without blinking. The furry carcass is staring right at me.


Song of the Sentinel

I would probably keep reading this manuscript, but this page is confusing. Here are my concerns:

The narrator speaks in both vernacular and formal language: “stay out of it” and “doesn’t he get it” don’t work with “His glorious days of vigilance are over.”

It also doesn’t make sense for the narrator to say, “he knows I’m here” when it’s the narrator who can feel the father’s presence.

The phrase “my life more miserable than it already is” is vague. The reader needs a hint of what has been going on. Miserable in what way?

Who says “Look here! You see ‘m? Now suck his life out!’ The reader can’t tell.

Who says “They’re coming. I’m not sure how many this time. Three? Four?” Again, the reader can’t tell who is speaking.

What does it mean for tombs to “lie in repose?” It sounds as though the author is trying too hard here to be literary.

What does it mean that the narrator “still” gets that paralyzing chill down his or her spine? Has this happened in the past?

“Ticking me off” sounds too slangy, and too trite.

What does it means to swallow the sourness “without blinking?” What does sight have to do with taste in this instance?

I like the images in the last paragraph, and I especially like the suspenseful last sentence. I would continue reading, but the author should clear up all the confusion on this first page so that an editor will feel that the author is in control of her craft.

Meg Eastman Thompson, THE TRUTH ABOUT JUSTICE. MG/YA novel

Restless as a yellow-jacket at a barbecue, I bounded down the sidewalk to fetch the bread and milk for supper as Mother had ordered, heading for the Piggly Wiggly. I was lonely, missing Effie more than ever. Wondering where she and her family had hidden. Not wanting to believe they’d never come back.

When Missy and I had promised Effie we’d stand by each other no matter what, we’d taken our vows seriously. It hadn’t mattered back then that Effie was colored. We three were true friends. As I passed Liberty High and turned left toward the grocery store, there was not a friend in sight. Most everybody had been sent away, what with the coloreds asking to come to our school.

My next-door neighbor and sometime friend, Missy Pridemoor, and nearly everyone else, was having fun at church camp. I had begged to go, but Daddy insisted I was too old to be a camper. When I’d protested, he made it clear that, three years away from college, I was too young to make my own decisions. As usual Mother stuck by him.

When I was little, she’d always say, “Amelia Justice Queen, your Daddy knows what’s best for you.” But it was 1963 now and I was changing, along with everything else in our country. Even Mother was starting to speak up. When she told Daddy that camp was nothing but a non-stop revival meeting, it got me thinking. I didn’t need to be saved. Nor did I want to waste the end of my summer vacation listening to some preacher baying like an auctioneer. I stopped complaining. At fifteen, going on sixteen, I was smart enough to pick my battles.

Besides, I wanted to enjoy my last days of freedom. I skipped along. Released from their impossible overprotectiveness, which had only grown worse since stopping integration was once again on the school board agenda, I was determined to make the best of my trip to the store.
The Piggly Wiggly’s deep freeze was heavenly. I lingered by the ice cream treats.


The Truth About Justice

Although I think this manuscript has potential because of the voice and content, I found the first page so full of exposition (and some of it confusing), that I don’t think I’d continue reading. Look at the first sentence and how long it is—the first page feels a bit like this (stuffed with information).

I don’t understand who the narrator is and what she wants: In the first paragraph, she is lonely for Effie; in the second paragraph, she seems to be missing her friends in general; in the third paragraph, she wants to go to camp; in the fourth paragraph, she decides she doesn’t want to go camp; and in the fifth paragraph, she seems just to want to enjoy her freedom. All of these motivations feel like too much for one page. The narrator has to have one overriding motivation that will take her (and the reader) through that first page—and on through the book.

It’s also confusing that in the third paragraph, the mother sticks by the father, but in the next paragraph she tells the father that the camp is nothing but a non-stop revival meeting.

And, finally, a fifteen-year-old protagonist is a bit too old for a novel that has the feel, at least in this opening page, of a middle grade novel (the narrator skips). If the author could lower the age and focus the narrator’s motivation, she should have a first page that an agent or editor would want to keep reading.

Thank you everyone for participating. Happy revising.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. I thoroughly enjoyed reading these first pages, as always 🙂 And hearing the opinions of a professional in the business is ALways so helpful. I’m not one to read ghost stories, so I don’t know how original “ghost spotting” is, but it was definitely original to me! Great premise, I thought 🙂

    And I LOVE that illustration, Kathy 🙂


  2. Very informative critiques. Thanks so much Anna and Kathy.


  3. Enjoyed reading these first pages and Anna’s insightful comments. Thanks to all who participated.


  4. Thank you for the critique, Anna. So grateful for the advice you’ve given. Who knows, – I didn’t even consider it – maybe there is a story to be explored here. But first, I have some clearing up to do 🙂
    To all participants: it was a pleasure meeting your characters and reading these unique openings. Write on!
    And Kathy, thank you for offering us so many opportunities to grow and find our way ❤


  5. Thank you so much for the critique, Anna. Wonderful advice on firming up my first page!

    And thanks to Kathy for making this opportunity possible. I enjoyed reading all of the participant’s creative entries.


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