Posted by: Kathy Temean | July 26, 2013

Free Fall Friday – Results – TS Ferguson

TSFerguson_hi res260TS Ferguson is an Associate Editor with Harlequin TEEN, where he works on fiction for teen girls and has the privilege of editing such authors as Kady Cross and Amanda Sun. Prior to Harlequin, T.S. worked at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, where he acquired and edited Jennifer Brown and Cris Beam, and worked with bestselling and award-winning authors such as Sherman Alexie, Sara Zarr, Pseudonymous Bosch, and Julie Anne Peters. He is a fan of dark, edgy and serious topics, commercial genres such as fantasy, horror, thrillers and mystery, and contemporary novels that skew a bit more literary but still have a commercial hook.

Here are the First Pages sent into TS for critique.

Lunadar: Homeward Bound (YA Fantasy) by Donna L Martin

The setting sun bathes the deck in an unnatural light.  The men are restless.  They have been too long from land, too long from home and it weighs heavily upon their spirits. This night will be a rough one with choppy seas and razor sharp tongues.  My hand is firm upon the railing and my body sways in rhythm to the waves.  My eyes peer into the fading light as if to see land just beyond the portal.  I will get no rest this night.

Voices waft up from below, a harsh word muttered here and there as the men settle down in cramp quarters reeking of sweat and dirt from many days at sea with only each other and the moonlight for company.   My body begs for rest but my mind races. Crowded with the what-ifs and what-could-have-been of another lifetime.  Too late to change things.  The sea is my master and I follow wherever it leads me.  I struggle to stay awake.   Many depend on me to lead them through the rocky maze lying before us.  But I am confident.  I know this path well, having traveled it many times.  Truth be told, I could steer this ship through these waters with my eyes closed.  Every rock and shell is as familiar to me as the stars in the northern sky.

The maze is done and once again we are on the open sea.  A solitary moon looms before me, the only other thing awake at this time of night.  Midnight hour. Witching hour.  A time when the portal opens between the here and now to stretch into the outer world.  My heart races as if mere wishing could make these sails quicken the journey.  At last we are homeward bound and another moon will not rise before we are once again in the arms of our loved ones.  All that stands between them and me is the moon.

Here is TS:

Lunadar: Homeward Bound (YA Fantasy) by Donna L Martin

Immediately my first thought while reading this is that I’m not getting enough information about the narrator or what’s going on. While it’s obvious to me that the scene is taking place on a ship of some sort, I needed a better sense of setting to be truly pulled in. Is this a pirate ship, a king’s ship, a merchant ship, etc?

I also wanted to know who the narrator is, or get more information about them. Are they a boy or a girl? Why are they the one who can lead the ship through the water? How do they know these waters so well? It’s all a bit too mysterious for me, when what I’m looking for in a YA fantasy on page one is that first sense of world building that will set this fantasy apart from others in the market and pull me in so I can learn more. There may be a lot of great stuff in this book, but I need to feel it from the first page or I won’t be compelled to keep reading.

I also felt that while there was a good sense of mood in the writing, the action moved too quickly and jumped ahead for me. In one paragraph the narrator is talking about how they have to navigate the ship through the waters and the next paragraph begins with the ship having gotten through the maze. I wanted to see them go through it, or at least experience the tension with the characters. Otherwise, it doesn’t feel necessary to have it happening in the present, other than as a set up to introduce the narrator’s knowledge of the local waters.


I Want a Dog by Lauren Shapiro

There’s one rule posted all over my building. It’s in the lobby, the laundry room, and even the elevator. That rule is “No Dogs Allowed.” I want a dog really badly, so I went to find the building superintendent, even though I know he is a grumpy guy, to ask him to take the signs down.

The Super said “I already have enough problems without dogs. Kids ride bikes around the mailroom and knock over packages. Kids drop candy wrappers on the stairs. The last thing I need is kids running around the building with dogs barking, waking everybody up.”

Well, that just frosted me all over like a cupcake on the fourth of July. I must have looked frosted too, because the Doorman, John, asked me what was wrong. When I told him, he said, “The Super only puts the signs up; the Building Manager makes the rules, you’ll have to ask her to allow dogs in the building.” He saw that I looked happy, and warned me, “I wouldn’t get my hopes up.”

I didn’t even know we had a Building Manager. Who was it? John pointed to an office lady coming up the entrance and said, “You’re in luck. Here she is now.” I ran up to her and asked, very politely, “Excuse me, but could you please change the rule about dogs?”

She looked sympathetic, but she said, “Sorry, sweetie. Dogs bark, people let them off the leash, and my phone vibrates off the desk with complaints.” When she said that, I felt like a melted frosted cupcake.

John suggested, “Why don’t you try feeding squirrels? That will take your mind off dogs.”

Here is TS:

I Want a Dog by Lauren Shapiro

One thing that I really look for when I’m reviewing manuscripts hoping to be pulled in is voice. Voice is, as I like to call it, personality in verbal form. You have a spark of a voice in this, and I am really digging that spark, but I feel like it’s not quite right at the moment. For instance, I love the visual of being “frosted all over like a cupcake on the fourth of July.” It made me think this book is set somewhere in the south, as this sounded like something Paula Deen or my grandmother (who was from Virginia) might say. But overall the voice is not quite there for me, and I would suggest working to refine it a bit more.

Additionally, I wanted more of an emotional hook to pull me into this story. Who is the narrator? Have one of the people he or she interacts with say their name so we can at least start to get a sense of who they are. And beyond that, why does s/he want a dog so badly? What is their motivation to ignore all of the signs saying “No Dogs Allowed,” go to these authority figures and make this special request? Are they lonely? Do they want a companion to play outdoors with? Are their parents not home a lot? Give the reader something to latch onto.

Also, I would slow the action down. Just in the first page, you have the narrator going to the Doorman, the Super, and the Building Manager, which means we as the reader don’t get much of a chance to really enjoy these scenes or experience the story with the narrator. This is a case where showing instead of telling needs to happen. Don’t just tell us that the narrator went to each of these people and what they said to him/her. Describe the experience so the reader can feel they’re there with the characters.

Also, one last note—I would be careful of overusing dialogue tags. There were a lot of them in just this first page, and they can get a bit redundant or in the way of the writing. When revising, structure the dialogue in such a way that you don’t need to use as many dialogue tags, and be aware of how much you’re using them, and in what way, throughout the rest of the manuscript.


Run Fred, run! The story of Fred Lebow and the New York City Marathon By Amalia Hoffman

Run boy run! Jews must escape from Romania, watch out for the gun!
Fifteen years old fugitive Fred runs the bumpy track from country to country.
After two years of hiding and train hopping, he crosses the finish line and arrives in America.

Fred settles eventually in New York City. Many immigrants live here. He enjoys eating pizza in Little Italy, polenta in Spanish Harlem and chow mein in China Town.

Sometimes, Fred feels lonely. His family is scattered all over the world. He joins the New York City Road Runner’s Club and runs in the park to make friends with fellow runners.
Run Fred Run! Just for fun!

On weekends, he hands out copies of the members’ newsletter to folks in Central Park. In his crowded walk up apartment, he keeps orange T shirts for club volunteers. “Thank you,” he says. “Keep up the good work!”

In 1971 he is voted club president. Wow! He remembers when he was a boy and couldn’t join clubs or sport teams just because he was Jewish.
Now, he thinks everyone should be included.

But women aren’t welcome to run 26.2 mile marathons. Some say they are too weak, others think that women shouldn’t compete with men.

Fred thinks that’s unfair. He invites top long distance female athletes to run officially in New York City.

Run ladies run! When you hear the starting gun!

Here is TS:

Run Fred, run! The story of Fred Lebow and the New York City Marathon By Amalia Hoffman

This one was a tough one for me, and I think ultimately it needs a major overhaul before it will work as a picture book.

My biggest concern right off the bat was that the plot jumps from decade to decade and event to event very quickly and there’s no time for the reader to really wrap their mind around any of the things going on before they’ve moved onto the next. A child of picture book age, even the upper range, will most likely not understand why Jews needed to escape Romania, and so you need to spend some time on explaining what that is all about. Why does he go from country to country? You mention details like the food that Fred enjoys when he moves to New York, but those details are not as integral to his story as other emotions, such as the loneliness. His family is scattered, but why does he join the New York Road Runners? Because he is looking for a new family? A group of friends to keep him company? And who are the New York Road Runners? Kids won’t know. As the plot continues, it jumps to 1971, when Fred is fighting for women to be in the marathon, but we don’t have a sense of what he found when he joined the Road Runners.

Ultimately, the reader doesn’t get a great grasp on what the story actually is. There’s a lot going on. The Holocaust, the loneliness of being an immigrant and having your family far away, women’s rights. While these are all great, and all a major part of Fred’s story, the short picture book format is going to be a tough one to cover all of these major issues, especially to an audience that might not understand some of the deeper issues behind all of these events. So you, the writer, should focus on telling each of these events in a way that is accessible to the age group. “When Fred was young, he had to leave his home because it was no longer safe. Some bad men were after his family. After traveling from country to country on a bumpy train…” (Or what have you). I would also remove the rhyming lines, as they don’t fit the serious subject matter of the book, and they use up your word count, and focus on smoothing the transition from escaping Romania to joining the Road Runners, to fighting for women to be able to run the marathon.



In a little valley on a far away planet, a young couple named Joliah and Zanadar lived in the tiniest house in the humble village of Zalph.

Zanadar did odd jobs wherever he could find work: fixing, planting, or harvesting. Joliah made some extra money as a seamstress and tended their little garden, but as hard as they worked, they could never save enough to buy lumber for a bigger house.

No one visited them since they were so poor, but it was just as well, because their little kitchen only had room for two chairs and a tiny table. They were just glad they had each other.

One spring a swarm of raptormoths rained down upon the valley, devouring every plant in sight. The villagers were horrified when they saw their ruined fields and gardens. They had no seeds to plant new grain and vegetables. The only place seeds could be purchased was in the faraway city of Thome.

The Grand Zalphin called a meeting. “Everyone must contribute money for new seeds,” he declared. “Who will volunteer to make the long and difficult journey?”

There was a murmur of voices: “I have wee ones to care for.” “I can’t close my shop.” “I need to milk my shorthorns every day.”

“Zanadar!” whispered Joliah. “We have no money to chip in. We should volunteer!”

“Do you think we can do it?” he asked.

“We must!” she said.

Zanadar stood up and said, “We will go.” Everyone stared at them.

“We need someone brave,” a voice shouted.

“We need someone smart,” another one yelled.

He answered, “We can’t promise we’re brave or smart, but we promise we’ll finish whatever we start.”

Here is TS:

Joliah and Zanadar’s Difficult Journey By Carol H. Jones

I wasn’t sure if this one was a middle grade or a picture book. I’m assuming middle grade, since it seems there is a larger adventure to come here. I think there’s a lot of really great stuff here—you give us a good sense of who the two main characters are and what their life is like. However, I wanted to know more about this alien village—what does it look like? How is it different from Earth, and same with the people—how are they different from us? Since it looks like Joliah and Zanadar are going to be leaving the village very soon, I wanted to get a better sense of the setting so I could wrap my head around where they are starting before they go wherever it is they will be going.

Likewise, I also wanted to get a sense of more emotions from the main characters. Are they sad that nobody visits them, are they unhappy with their lot in life or are they content? Again, I wanted to be able to establish a starting point for these characters so that it informs the characters as they go forward on their journey.

I also worry about the characters being an adult couple rather than kids. It can be tough to sell a children’s book with adult main characters, since they either come across unrelatable (the kid readers don’t relate to the more mature problems—for example, not having enough income to be able to improve your condition of living) or the characters don’t come across as believable (because they are making decisions that a kid would make rather than an adult). I would suggest whether Joliah and Zanadar could be reimagined as kids in some way, perhaps two friends who live on their own because they have no other family.


Thank you TS for sharing your expertise with us this month. The time you spent to help writers improve their craft is very appreciated.

REMEMBER: If you are planning a writer’s event, T.S. would be a good addition. I think you can get a glimpse of T.S. and the value he brings to the table from the above critiques. He is very hands on with critiques, has a wonderful personality, and would love to be invited.

CALL FOR ILLUSTRATIONS: Please remember to send in your illustrations for July. It is a great way to get seen and keep your name out there to get noticed. Send them to Kathy(dot)temean(at) and put “July Illustration” in the subject area. Please submit .jpgs at least 500 pixels wide.

Next Months Guest Critiquer is Agent Louise Fury from L. Perkins Agency.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Really enjoyed reading these selections. Amalia: How interesting that you chose to write about Fred Lebow. I still remember his first and last marathon with Greta Weitz. What a terrific idea for a picture book! p.s. Sky Pony Press has a pb about the NYC Marathon, Marathon Mouse. You may want to take a peak at it. 🙂


    • Robin,

      Thanks for the sharing what Sky Pony is doing. I will have to make sure Amalia didn’t miss seeing it.



  2. I’m so glad to have had a chance to be critiqued by T.S. and will be re-writing with his advice in mind. Glad Kathy runs this project as well, my hat’s off to her for the efforts she makes.


  3. Thanks to the writers for putting their stuff out there like that, and TS, I loved your critiques! I learned so much 🙂 Thanks to everyone, and certainly Kathy for posting this great stuff!


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