Posted by: Kathy Temean | May 30, 2014

Free Fall Friday – Quinlan Lee


I want to thank Agent Quinlan Lee at Adams Literary for taking the time out of her busy schedule to critique four first pages that were submitted. It really helps all of us to read what was submitted and what an industry professional thinks.

Quinlan is a published author of numerous books for young readers and more than 15 years of business and project management expertise. She has been a part of the Adams Literary team since 2008, representing clients in all genres from picture books to YA. She is an active member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and a founding board member of the Charlotte Chapter of the Women’s National Book Association (WNBA).

Carol Foote                                          TROUBLE DOG                                         PB

Pepin never meant to be trouble. He just liked to play – romping, sniffing, nosing, digging … toppling, grabbing, leaping, crashing…

So Pepin was always in trouble. And his foster family, who was trying to find him a good, forever home, wasn’t having any luck.

When the first visitors came to consider adopting Pepin as their pet…

Pepin was scrabbling at the kitchen wall. Mouse! I smell mouse! He made a small hole and thrust his nose inside.

“No, Pepin!” Father shouted.

Pepin pushed harder and made the hole bigger. Mouse! He wants to play!

“Out of the kitchen!”

Shaking their heads, the family left. “We can’t have a dog like that,” the man said.

When the next family visited, their little boy roared his T-Rex through the air.

He wants to play! Pepin took one leap and – WHAM! [ART: boy is on the floor wailing.]

“No, Pepin!” Mother grabbed the dinosaur in Pepin’s mouth.

She wants to play! Pepin pu-u-u-lled as hard as he could, and – BAM!

Mother rubbed her elbow. “Outside! Now!”

Shaking their heads, the family left. “We can’t have a dog like that,” the boy said.

When a couple visited, Pepin was in the yard. He sniffed the air. Mmmmm! People food! Pepin nosed the lid off the trashcan and leaned in. The can tipped, tipped, tipped and – CRASH!

Pepin shook the bag. RRR-RIP! [ART: various kinds of garbage spill out, including diapers] Here’s something to play with!

“No, Pepin,” Mother yelled.

Shaking their heads, the family left. “We can’t have a dog like that,” the woman said.

Here is what Quinlan had to say:

Trouble Dog

I liked the set-up in the opening with a dog who didn’t want to be trouble but whose puppy behavior put him spot-in the middle of it. There were nice fun action words to draw the reader in. I’d love to see a few more of those later in the manuscript. I’m a little concerned that the overall concept of the book—a puppy being fostered, looking for a forever home—might be a little complex for the youngest PB readers.

Also, don’t be afraid to let the illustrations do some of the storytelling. For example, instead of writing “He made a small hole and thrust his nose inside,” just write “Mouse! I smell a mouse!” and let the illustrator go to town bringing Pepin’s character and enthusiasm to life and showing the readers how he reacts to the idea of a mouse in the kitchen.

I liked the repetition of “We can’t have a dog like that.” But you could punch it more by taking away the shaking your head line. Again the illustrations could show that. It would be fun if you played with the line so it brings it back to the Trouble Dog line, such as “We can’t have a dog like that. That dog is trouble!”

They key to whether this story works or not will be the ending. We already have over 260 words, so the clock is ticking. If there is fun and funny resolution that shows that Pepin really isn’t trouble and that he finds the perfect home (or his foster family decides to keep him) then it will make the destination worth the journey.


B. A. Rieth                                 Title: MS AMERICA                                    YA

I forgot to breathe the first time I saw Noah Vale. Dressed in khakis and a white button down shirt, he dribbled a basketball in the driveway across the street from our house. He wore a tie. “Will you look at that,” Dad said. “I think we have new neighbors.”

Believe me, I was looking. Noah moved like a dancer, long and sure and strong. Cutting left, then right, he guarded the ball against some phantom opponent and pulled at something real in me. I couldn’t keep my sighs off him. “Humph,” Dad said.

I knew what he was thinking. With all his years in the real estate business, how could he have missed the clues of a home about to change hands? The white picket fence freshly painted, the gutter that had drooped for years, now straight as a balance beam. I thought of Mom, her phone calls stretching across time zones. We had missed clues before, Dad and I.

We stood side by side in front of our big picture window. It was Sunday. Early. Almost 10:45. Dad sipped coffee from his favorite mug, bathrobe opened, pajamas rumpled. I pushed up my glasses and smoothed the sleep from my hair. I’d heard about Noah and his family last evening, from our next door neighbor, Mrs. Kurowski. “They have a boy your age,” she’d said across our backyard fence as I stuffed a bag full of Chinese take-out containers into our garbage can. “A nice boy. Cute. That’s the word girls use these days, isn’t it, dear?”

Rumor, I’d thought. Wishful thinking. Not anything I was willing to believe until I saw it with my own eyes. Mrs. Kurowski had been wrong before. Years ago she’d told me the Savoys were in the movie business. The day they moved in I’d stood at the curb, autograph book ready, as their moving van lumbered into the neighborhood. Not the one they had hired. The one they owned. Savoy Family Movers.

But this time Mrs. K had gotten it right. Cute was the word. I fought the urge to pirouette. Me, with two left feet and a tongue always ready to trip me up.

Here is what Quinlan had to say:

Ms. America

This has a nice opening. I was pulled into this girl’s voice right away with “I forgot to breathe the first time I saw Noah Vale.” Also the way she told the readers that her mother was gone was quick, deep and cut straight to the heart: “I thought of Mom, her phone calls stretching across time zones. We had missed clues before, Dad and I.” That is a perfect example of spare, strong writing. Similarly, saying “It was Sunday. Early. 10:45.” and even talking about her throwing away the take-out containers was nicely done. The author’s given us a great snapshot of their lives without telling us or over explaining.

I also liked the humor in the story of the neighbor and the “movie company” and the girl’s reaction of “I fought the urge to pirouette. Me, with two left feet and a tongue always ready to trip me up.” Again, it gives us an idea of who this girl is—self-depreciating and funny, not too bitter—and it made me want to know her more. I’d keep reading for sure, even just to learn her name and see her meet this breath-taking boy.


LIKE VANESSA by T. Charles                                                                        MG

The soil is bad for certain kinds of flowers. Certain seeds it will not nurture…but it doesn’t matter. It’s too late. At least on the edge of my town, among the garbage and the sunflowers of my town, it’s much, much, much too late.

Focusing in class isn’t even an option. Every word of The Bluest Eye haunts me. I’m convinced Toni Morrison has stalked my life for the last thirteen years and renamed the main character Pecola. She is my long-lost twin. Black like me. Screaming for the ugliness to escape. For people to see her for what she is on the inside. Beautiful. Like Miss America. Like Vanessa Williams. Like me?

I wonder if Ms. Morrison’s ever been to Newark, New Jersey. Cause there ain’t nothing but garbage here, too. Garbage on the streets. In those pipes the meth heads sprinkle through the alleys. In the elevators that carry me to the eighth floor of my apartment in the Grafton Hill Projects. Except there ain’t no sunflowers in my ‘hood. Just them fake, plastic, dollar-store-looking ones Pop Pop puts on the windowsill.

It’s sixth period Chorus, and I’m not the only one ignoring the teacher. The scattered noises of gossip and hip hop rhymes battle it out against the melody Mrs. Walton is playing on the piano. Clearly, the students are winning. My seat is wedged in the furthest corner of our dungeon-like music room. I am invisible. The darkness of the walls blends into my dark clothes and even darker skin. I sink into my chair, placing The Bluest Eye under my seat, and reach for my next read, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Pop Pop says he got it special for me because I’m his little songbird.I turn to the first page, ready to lose myself in Maya Angelou’s words. Anything to escape this jungle called school.

Here is what Quinlan had to say:

Like Vanessa

            The writing in the opening paragraph is strong, but it is little abstract, and so it took me the rest of the page to get my bearings. Perhaps starting the story with the third paragraph so we know that we’re in chorus class and it’s chaotic and our protagonist is using THE BLUEST EYE to tune it all out. Then going into wondering it Ms. Morrison has ever been to New Jersey (which places the reader even more concretely in a time and place) and then going into the first paragraph’s ideas about how she connects to Morrison’s work would help the reader connect more easily.

The picture of Newark is haunting and the use of “Pop Pop” starts to hint at the girl’s world and who we will meet in her story. The references to Vanessa Williams threw me a bit, especially in connection with all the Morrison and Angelou references. I’m assuming they are important to the story because of the title, but if not then I’d say to drop them. Not many young readers today will make the immediate connection to who Williams is and her importance to the girl. Overall the voice is very strong, and I would read more.


Bebe Willoughby         PERMISSION TO LOVE             YA  

A screeching noise sounded within the cabin. The airplane turned, then dropped sharply.

We were on our way to Athens, but we were circling a different airport. The sign came on that told us to return to our seats and fasten our seat belts

“Something’s wrong.” the guy beside me said. Neither of us had slept. We’d talked all night.

A hushed sound came from the passengers. “What’s happening?” I asked.

“There’s a small mechanical problem. The pilots are fixing it,” a flight attendant said.

Panic rushed in. The noise continued, sounding like the brakes on a bike coming to a sudden stop.

“This is your Captain speaking. Due to mechanical difficulties, there’s going to be an

emergency landing. Everyone should pay close attention to the flight attendants as they review the emergency landing procedures.”

“Tighten your seat belts, and put your head down between your legs.” It was the last

We were going to crash, I thought. The flight attendants took the seats in back.

A woman across from us started to cry. Another woman took out her rosary beads.

“What’s your name?” I asked the guy I’d been talking to so long. Suddenly it was

important that I know.

“Miles. And yours?”


Here is what Quinlan had to say:

Permission to Love

            I had some difficulty with tone of this one. The action of the story is gripping—the plane is going down!—but the description and writing is clinical and detached. I want to feel the danger and the fear of the main character. The dialogue is very calm and unemotional, even though we’re told that “Panic is rushing in!” Where is the tension? If I was thinking, “We’re going to crash.” My inner thoughts would be spinning. Show us that!

I liked the line, “We’d talked all night”, but I wanted more. How had they talked? Just to pass the time? Because she was attracted to him? Had people shushed them but they just couldn’t stop talking? Was it soft talk once the lights were turned down low, while they held hands under a blanket? Or was it boring talk about celebrities and subjects they like in school? You don’t need to go into lots of detail here. But just a sentence or two more will show us more about Jade and make us more emotionally connected and worried about her dying in a fiery crash.


Thanks again Quinlan. Good job!

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Fun to see Quinlan’s response to each of these first pages. I agree that the voice in “Ms. America” is outstanding. Best wishes to all four writers and thanks Kathy, for running this column. I always learn from editors’ and agents’ observations.


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