Posted by: Kathy Temean | September 27, 2013

Free Fall Friday – Results


The above picture prompt was used for the story below:

he Neptune Diet by Karen Fortunati – MG Fantasy

What is this?  Some kind of underwater optical illusion?  Because I’m ripped.  Totally freaking cut.  Even with my vision blurred by these crappy goggles in the steamy murkiness of the hot tub, there’s no doubt about it.  My brand new biceps, triceps and deltoids bulge and clench as I wave my hands through the white froth.  Whoa! These beauties, usually held hostage under a thick layer of “baby fat,” now rise up separate and defined, dancing under my skin.  Where did they come from?

Lungs ready to burst, I stick my nose and mouth out of the water and the chill of the October afternoon hits my face.

“Teddy!  Get out of there!” Mom yells from the open sliding door.  “You’re just getting over your cold.”  Her orange crocs move across the splintery deck, towards me.

I rise from the water like a Greek god.  And wait for her screams.  What did you do to yourself?  What did you take?  Steroids?  No baby! You’re only in eighth grade!   

            But there’s not one lousy scream. Instead she tosses a towel next to the hot tub.  It lands on the empty Twinkie box and dented can of Diet Mugs Root Beer.

            “Well, mother?” I ask.  “Notice anything about your favorite son?”  I twirl, allowing her to visually feast on my eight-pack abs, whittled waist and pecs of steel.

Mom ignores my physique.  Instead, open-mouthed, she points to the carved stick of driftwood lying next to the hot tub.  The one I dropped as I got out of the water.  The one I borrowed yesterday from the maritime exhibit at Harriman House as Mom was giving a tour.  But just as I’m about to explain my temporary need for “Neptune’s Walking Stick,” I catch sight of my reflection in the slider.   What the?  My body has morphed back to its normal, depressing, pudgy shape.

Below are Zack’s comments:

The Neptune Diet

There’s definitely some cool stuff going on here. The magic piece of driftwood that gives one a godlike physique has fun potential, both for comedy and complications. As a fantasy nerd, I’m already wondering what the rules for the driftwood might be, and imagining the ways Teddy can get in trouble with it. You have some nice details in there, too: the crocs on Teddy’s mom, the food laid outside the hot tub, all do a nice job characterizing this family. As a first page, though, I think there’s definitely some fine tuning to do. This feels almost like the first page of a second or third chapter. I imagine that, because you’re writing with an image as a prompt, you want to dive right in to the exciting part—Teddy discovers the power of the driftwood and becomes the figure we see in the illustration—but there’s some narrative work still to accomplish. The driftwood is going to be life changing for him, so I’d like to get a brief view of the life that will be changed, and witness Teddy “borrowing” the driftwood from the exhibit. There’s obviously a story there—is it funny, ominous, both? I wouldn’t just bury it in exposition. Even the first line, “What is this?” seems to reference something we’re missing, rather than giving us something intriguing to chomp onto. I’d suggest leading with the hook—since this is in first person, maybe Teddy talking about how his life went to hell (or was saved, whatever the angle is) because of a piece of wood—and then spending the rest of the time showing us how he got there.


Marooned by BettelynnMcIlvain – MG

Cycle 22: Planet Earth.

The big fish the planet’s inhabitants call whales were particularly annoying this morning. Their curiosity will be my early demise. I can only hope that the calls they make to one another satisfy spotted sonar. Clearly I am being hunted.

Cycle 23: Planet Earth.

A lone whale calf I have named, Grail, has been following me. He has soulful eyes and a talent for getting into trouble. This morning small cans of explosives were released from my hunters. To me, puffs of smoke disturbing the currents.  “Away!” I yelled as Grail swam into the field of eruptions. Had I not grabbed him, the youngster would have died. Bubbles from my warning rose to the surface. The ships are now sure of my existence – at least in their waters. At dusk, out of range, I rise to the land.

Cycle 25: Planet Earth.

My plans to make ground have been foiled. Not by the ships I left in the middle of the ocean, but by two earth children who clearly love the sunset. My last trip here I learned about these creatures. I was much younger then, much smaller.  I could move about undetected, splashing in the waves near the beaches as if I was a hallucination from the sun in their eyes. This trip I picked a jagged mountainous coast to come ashore.  Who would have thought children could climb these rocks? I have decided to stay in the water using the towering boulders dotting the coast as shields. At least for a while.

“Look, Austin! Whales!” the young girl points as if her arm is an arrow.

“Whales? Naw. Whales never come this close to shore. Not this time of year. Not at this hour,” the boy calls to her.

“I’m going to swim out to them!” she shouts, deftly jumping from rock to rock until she reaches the edge of a calm pool feeding into the sea.

Here is Zack’s comments:
Lots of interesting elements at play: the alien that’s being hunted by someone, the sweet bond that it forms with a whale calf, and then throw two spunky kids into the mix. All the pieces are here, but I think you need to do a bit more work up front figuring out (and showing us) who and what this narrator is. We don’t yet even have a name to go on, or any details about what it looks like or what it’s doing here. It even took me a while to figure out that it was deep underwater. (Swimming? Wearing a suit of some kind?) It seems to know some things about Earth, but misses others—like understanding sonar, but confusing whales with fish. I think in your own mind you need to have a clear vision of where this being came from. Most of its reference points seem to be human. Does it have fish on its own world? What makes the whale’s eyes seem “soulful”—does it have a concept for soul, or does it mean the whale seems intelligent? Is it familiar enough with “arrows” that it would compare a girl’s pointing arm to one? Creating a completely alien creature and plopping them into our world is tough, especially when that alien is the narrator. They need to be both believably different from us, and yet familiar enough that we can understand them. I think I’d suggest actually showing us the creature’s arrival for your first chapter. Set the stakes and make it clear the alien is marooned early in, then slow down and make a bit more of its escape from the ships that hunt it. Does it have a ship of its own somewhere? Did it crash land? I’m sure there’s an exciting opening chapter in all that.

Who Stole Ben Franklin?  By Susan E. Harris  Middle Grade Mystery for Boys

There might have been a bag of jewels and coins, or an ancient Hindu dagger or even a set of swords.  John had seen endless possibilities before opening the footlocker.  But now it was open and…

“There’s a uniform.”  His cousin pulled out an olive green jacket and pants.  “Ewww, and it smells like stinky feet.  Get it?  Footlocker?  Feet?”

“Yep.  I get it, Will.”  John felt a small trickle of disappointment.

Evidently the smell didn’t really bother Will because he yanked the jacket on.

There’s got to be some kind of treasure.  But the next item John found was a pair of brown lace up boots.  “Speaking of stinky feet—”

“Hey, let me have those.”  Will tugged them from John, stuck his feet in and tromped around the kitchen.  Dirt fell off in puffs, leaving a faint trail behind.  “I really wish we could have watched that old Indiana Jones movie.”

John nodded.  He’d been looking forward to the movie himself.  What could be better then adventure, treasure and mystery?  But a fierce summer storm had hit that morning and knocked the power out.  John and Will had made a trip to the basement to find the portable DVD player in hopes of still watching the movie.  Instead, they’d found a plywood box with metal bands on the corners and faint letters spelling out U.S. Army on the lid.

Will continued to stomp.  “Anything else?”

“Just these letters.”

“Letters?!”  Will snorted.  “Boring.”

John didn’t disagree and yet he was still curious.  Picking up the bundle, he untied the string.

Here is Zack’s Comments:

Who Stole Ben Franklin?
Nice first page. John and Will are clearly drawn and distinct. Your writing is clean and you’ve got lots of great details interspersed throughout. And I’m definitely interested in what’s in the bundle of letters. (Though I wonder if you could have some kind of hint up front that these are more than meets the eye. Some symbol or scribbled phrase that has the whiff of mystery?) I was a little curious why John expected there to be treasure here. Whose basement are they in? John’s? Will’s? What gave him the idea that he’d find a bag of jewels in this footlocker? I’d also suggest maybe giving Will a better zinger to lead with, rather than the foot pun. (Since no one actually called it a footlocker in dialogue, I was a little confused where the stinky feet joke came from.) This is your first chance to impress, so show off Will’s best cornball material. Lastly, considering the power is out, it might be worth spending a little more time with mood-setting descriptions. I imagine the basement is pretty dark, and they are searching around with flashlights. What does that look like? Can they hear the storm raging outside? Doesn’t have to be a lot, but I think you’ve got a nice set up here, and it can only get better with some moody sensory elements.

QUEEN OF THE WHALES by Liliana Erasmus – MG Fantasy

There was a pool, not a large one, a regular swimming pool: rectangular with glazed blue tiles, stainless steel ladders and underwater lighting that illuminated the tropical patio at night. Magaly stood on the edge, gazing into the clear, bottomless water. Did she just see what she saw? The warm pavers underneath her bare feet were real and so was the island breeze that swept through her hair and the smell of chlorine she was inhaling through her nose. She lifted her cotton slip, got down on her knees, then bent forward to take a better look. The shadows were still floating in the depth of the pool, some disappearing and others growing towards her or emerging. This wasn’t real, it couldn’t be.

She looked around. The garden was deserted. Except for the large cacti, the flowering agave plants, the lounge chairs, the clicking and chirping of geckos and other night time critters, there was no one to help her understand what was going on. Screwing up her eyes against the bright water and blinking, she started to realize that there was something she could do. By standing up and backing away very slowly, she was able to flee the sight, enter the villa that belonged to the pool, wake everyone up – if there was anyone inside – and demand an explanation. It was the most logical thing to do.

Magaly stood up, but instead of running and screaming her way to the house, she walked straight to the ladder on the right. Hands on the handles, one foot on the step, another in the water and no way back.

Here is Zack’s comments: 

Queen of the Whales
Well, I’m very curious what’s at the bottom of the pool! Great job setting the suspense. There are lots of wonderful details here, too. I can totally picture the shifting water and feel the island breeze. I also like how much attention you gave to this being a normal, ordinary swimming poolclearly whatever is happening inside the pool is very extraordinary. It was funny having Magaly think of all the ways she should be responding to what she’s seeing , and then promptly ignore them. My biggest comment here would just be to keep on eye out for language economy. A good editor would be able to help you with this, but I found myself tripping over a few parts. 

For example, the sentence: “The warm pavers underneath her bare feet were real and so was the island breeze that swept through her hair and the smell of chlorine she was inhaling through her nose.”
There are so many rich sensory details here, but the sentence runs long. It’s trying to do too much in one breath. I’d chop it up a bit, and even cut the nose stuff, since we can infer that she’s smelling with her nose. “The warm pavers underneath her bare feet were real. So was the island breeze that swept through her hair, and the smell of chlorine.” It might also be good to clarify what you mean by “real.” I assumed you meant Magaly was assuring herself that she wasn’t dreaming, but that’s not totally clear from the text.

Thank you, Zack, for sharing your expertise with all of us. The time you spent is appreciated so much.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. The introduction of new stories and quick reviews is interesting and helpful. Agent information is spot on and the quality of illustrators’ work is fascination. I have contacted several artists after seeing their work -and they have graciously responded.


  2. Thanks so much, Zack! It was fun to write a first page from a picture prompt and wonderful to have feedback. Thanks, Kathy!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: