Posted by: Kathy Temean | January 31, 2014

Free Fall Friday – First Page Results

stainglasssnowcat

I think most of us would open our door to this poor little stain glass kitty who wants to come in from the cold and the snow. It was done by Christine Brallier. She is a stained glass mosaic artist from Santa Barbara, CA, and this image is from her book, The Night Before Christmas. For more of Christine’s images from her book, visit her blog at www.cbmosaics.blogspot.com.

Below are the four randomly picked first pages critiqued by Agent Sean McCarthy –  McCarthy Literary Agency. I will be posting February’s Guest Critiquer on Sunday and sharing why some submissions could not be used.

ABBY’S FARM FRIENDS by Sharalyn Edgeberg  Picture Book 

Billows of dust swirled behind the car as they drove down the long, dirt driveway to Grandma’s farm.  “Dad, I’ll miss my friends,” said Abby.

“Grandma could use some company,” said Dad.

Tin brooder houses lined up in a row.

Grandpa had raised turkeys, but now Grandma rented the buildings to a chicken farmer.

“Welcome,” said Grandma.  The smell of roast beef and homemade mashed potatoes drifted from the doorway.

After lunch, Dad unloaded Abby’s bag. “Have a good week.”

“I don’t want to stay.  I don’t have any friends here.”

“You’ll be fine.”

“No I won’t.”

On Monday morning Abby said, “Grandma, I’m going for a walk.”

“Maybe you could find Mama Cat?  She’s going to have kittens, and I haven’t seen her.”

“I’ve never had a kitten,” said Abby.

Abby kicked up dust on the driveway.  Not a friend in sight.

          “Peep, peep, peep . . . peep, peep, peep . . . peep, peep, peep.”  Abby followed the peeps into the brooder house.

“Fluffy chicks here, but no Mama Cat.”

One little chick scuttled out the door behind Abby.  She scooped the downy puff in her hands, “You can be my friend.”

She carried it to the house.  “Grandma, can I keep this chick?”

“What would you want if you were that chick?”

“Hmmm,” Abby said.  “I’d want to stay with the other chicks.”

Below is Sean McCarthy’s Critique:

ABBY’S FARM FRIENDS by Sharalyn Edgeberg

I like how quickly the author sets up the central conflict (not wanting to spend a week at Grandma’s), and I was also happy to see that it had a strong emotional connection as well (is there anything worse as a kid than being taken somewhere you don’t want to go?). Be careful w/ being too on-the-nose with some of the background information; is there another way to show the reader what’s happened to Grandpa’s old turkey farm? There were a few times where I thought the text might come across as overwritten or captioning the artwork (e.g. “Tin brooder houses lined up in a row”), and I recommend parsing any descriptions that will be shown in the illustrations.  There may also be an opportunity to filter these details through the protagonist (e.g. Abby couldn’t believe how different the houses looked out here”).  There’s also some repeated information (such as Abby not having friends at the farm), and I’d try to avoid repetition w/ such a limited word count.  I thought the scene w/ the baby chick was handled very well, but I hope the narrative doesn’t stray too much further away from the initial conflict.

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DEADLY, YA thriller, by Carolyn Chambers Clark

It’s a law of nature that sooner or later my older sister will hook up with another handsome psycho

who’s totally out to do harm, and I’ll have to break them up.

Just why I think she’s already done the dirty deed, I don’t know. Maybe something in her walk.

Anyway, school’s out for the summer and we’re dragging our butts through the 93-degree woods by Donner

Woods Road, picking berries for one of Mom’s famous pies.

“His name is Geoffrey Whittington, the Third, and he’s one of the richest men in town, Cameo,” Cort

says in a dramatic voice.

Why she can’t call me Cammie like I’ve asked her to do a zillion times, and why she even says my name

is a total mystery because we’re the only two here.

I plunk a handful of berries into the pot and go into lecture mode. “Sheesh. How many times do I have

to tell you this? I don’t care if his name is Geoffrey Whittington, the fourteenth. You have to stop

choosing boyfriends based on their bank accounts. Check out their criminal records first.”

From the way Cort stops picking berries, gives me a sappy smile, and her eyes go all dewy, I can tell

she’s a goner already. Case closed.

She stands in the shade of a cottonwood tree like a movie star. With the late afternoon sun shining

down through the leaves, she looks almost angelic. Of course, she’s not, and I get a weird premonition

that we’re both in for danger with this guy around.

On second thought, I’m not going to let this case get closed so easily. I just have to figure a way to

get her attention.

Something snaps in the brush near the path and I turn to see who it is.  Can’t see anything but high

bushes and trees. Gives me the creeps thinking somebody could be watching us.

BELOW IS SEAN McCARTHY’S CRITIQUE:

DEADLY, YA thriller, by Carolyn Chambers Clark 

I liked how quickly the reader is thrust into the action, and I think that realistic YA is on the upswing.  I’m also a fan of arresting first lines, but I wonder if there’s too much ambiguity at play here.  I found myself wondering how many handsome psychos have hurt her sister instead of thinking about the narrative, and it might be beneficial to have a cleaner kick-off to the novel. There were a few phrases that might feel familiar or cliché (e.g. “done the dirty deed”  and “Gives me the creeps”) and it drew me out of the story.  This admittedly might be a bit nitpicky, but the “Anyway” in the third paragraph also jumped out to me, because I wasn’t sure who the narrator was addressing. Is she self-aware that she’s in a novel? Are there going to be more disruptions? I know it can be used as a tool to convey teenage angst, but it may not be specific enough to go to Cammie’s voice.  Lastly, I’m a bit worried that there may too much background information that’s presented to the reader at once, and it may draw the reader out of the story. Is there a more casual way to clue the reader that Cammie thinks like a private investigator, or that the sisters are on summer break and it’s unbearably hot outside? There’s sometimes a big gulf between information that you as the author need to know (everything!) versus what the audience needs to see right away.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

J.J. MCKAY, ENTREPRENEUR, by Karen Namba Schneider, Picture Book

My name is J.J. McKay.

My piggy bank is empty. I need money.

When I show the empty bank to my dad, he smiles and shows me his own empty wallet. “You’ll have to get a job,” he says.

My brothers, Jasper and Jake, are listening. “You should be an entrepreneur,” Jasper says.

“What’s an entrepreneur?” I ask.

“An entrepreneur is someone who starts a new business,” Jasper says.

“What kind of business?” I ask.

“I don’t know,” Jake says, “but whatever you do, you’ll need some business cards.”

I go to my room to make business cards. I am trying to decide what my new business will be, when my

mom asks me to deliver a wagon full of baby clothes to Mrs. Green down the street.

“But I am trying to start a business,” I say.

“Well, it can be a delivery service,” Mom says. “I’ll pay you a dollar.”

I quickly make a business card.

J.J. McKay

Entrepreneur

Delivery Boy

At Mrs. Green’s, I show her my card and ask if she needs anything delivered.

“Sorry, J.J.,” she says. “But if you will weed my flower beds, I’ll pay you $5.”

The weeds are tall. The weeds are prickly. The weeds make me sneeze. There are a lot of weeds.

When I am almost done, Mrs. Watson, who lives next door, waves to me.

I take out my business card and write on it.

BELOW IS SEAN McCARTHY’S CRITIQUE:

J.J. MCKAY, ENTREPRENEUR, by Karen Namba Schneider, Picture Book

I enjoyed the sharp, sparse text, and that there’s room left for the artwork.  I also thought the author did a great job at transitioning into the central conflict of the story (J.J. getting paid by his mom to deliver groceries).  This might be personal preference, but I’ve found the present tense can be tricky in picture books, and it might be interesting to experiment w/ the past tense.  I was also hoping to see higher stakes for J.J., as not having a job or needing money might be too common of a problem for a child. Why does J.J. need money now? Does J.J. want to buy something? Does he usually have money? These details might give the reader more insight into J.J.’s personality, and allow the reader to identify w/ him.  A more clear goal for J.J. will also help drive the narrative towards a natural conclusion; as it stands right now, I worry that J.J. might theoretically keep meeting new neighbors and doing new odd jobs indefinitely or until it is convenient for him to stop, and that might not be as satisfying a story.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Ninja Never Wear Pink! by Mandy Yates – Picture book

On the day Ninja Lee turned seven, Papa Ninja said, “Tomorrow you will start Ninja Training School.”

Mama Ninja worried. “What if Ninja Training School isn’t right for Ninja Lee?”

“Nonsense. My grandfather, my father, and I all went there. And now so will Ninja Lee.”

On the first day, Ninja Lee carried a Ninja Action Figure to school. All the other Ninja

pointed and laughed.  “Ninja never play with dolls!”

Ninja Lee glared at them. “This Ninja does.”

On the second day, during recess, Ninja Lee picked daisies and handed them out. All the

other Ninja threw them on the ground. “Ninja never pick daisies.”

Ninja Lee frowned at them. “This Ninja does.”

On the third day, Ninja Lee walked through the doors and the class burst out laughing.

“Ninja never-ever wear pink! You should go home. You’re not a real Ninja,” they

teased.

Ninja Lee’s head hung low. Outside, alone, Ninja Lee practiced chopping, kicking, and

meditating. Crickets chirped. Water rippled. Wind whooshed through the daisies.

Just then all the other Ninja scurried out for recess. But today, there was a new Ninja. A

very large, very mean, Bully Ninja.

Bully Ninja pushed. Bully Ninja shoved. Bully Ninja trampled any Ninja that got in the way.

Bully Ninja swiped all the baseballs, snatched all the bats, and stole all the bases.

The other Ninja trembled, and scooted, and dodged out of Bully Ninja’s way. Then, Bully

Ninja marched over to Ninja Lee.

Ninja Lee picked up a fistful of daisies and smiled.  Bully Ninja growled, “Ninja never

smile.”

“This Ninja does. You should try it some time.”

BELOW IS SEAN McCARTHY’S CRITIQUE:

NINJA NEVER WEAR PINK! by Mandy C. Yates.

I liked how quickly the story jumps (pun not intended) into the main conflict, and that the reader knows exactly what’s at stake for Ninja Lee.  I also thought the narrative unfolded naturally for the most part (no easy feat!), though there were a few places that didn’t feel quite as organic, and stuck out to me.  For example, why does Lee carry a play action figure to school? Does it comfort him? Does he not want it to be lonely while he’s at school? I also wondered what had changed when Lee feels alone, as he seemed to be able to brush off peer pressure before. Maybe he decides to try fitting in more, but can’t? Or he’s sure that his classmates will come around eventually? Similarly, I also wondered what changed to make Lee smile and confront the bully after being sad. Illuminating these decisions will make for a more cohesive story, and also shine more light onto Lee’s personality.  A couple of minor, nitpicky points – I worry that Lee’s parents talking above him in the second line may make him seem like a weaker, passive character than he actually is, and it might be useful to show Lee having more agency in deciding to go to Ninja school.  I also was unsure about the singular use of Ninja – my mind naturally wanted to autocorrect to Ninjas (e.g. Ninjas never play with dolls!) and it pulled me out of the story.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Responses

  1. Wow. It’s great to see how an agent looks at our mss! After reading through Sean’s comments, I see I have a lot to learn. Thanks, Kathy, for providing this chance every month to submit a first page to an agent or editor.

    Like

  2. Kathy, thanks for this opportunity! And Sean thanks for a great critique. Now- onto revising. 🙂

    Like

  3. Another great installment. Thank you Kathy and Sean!

    Like

  4. Thanks, Sean and Kathy. It is great to get into an agent’s mind. 🙂

    Like

  5. Thank you so much for sharing my artwork, Kathy! These critiques were immensely helpful as I am considering writing something myself in the near future. Thanks!!

    Like

  6. Thank you, Kathy and Sean for giving a valuable peek at critique comments. Wonderful to read.

    Like

  7. Seans critiques are so helpful. I like how he offers praise as well. Super stained-glass kitty piece too! 🙂

    Like

  8. Kathy…this was 100% helpful! Thanks so much to Sean for his generosity…I loved his constructive criticism and ability to find areas to praise as well as critique…his writers are very lucky.:)

    Like

  9. Great to see these critiques! Always helpful with your own work. Thank you to those brave enough to share their work

    Like


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