Posted by: Kathy Temean | June 28, 2015

Free Fall Friday on Sunday


This woodland playground illustration was sent in by Michelle Kogan. Michelle teaches art, and in the summers spends a good amount of time painting plien air in gardens and nature venues in the Chicago area, including the Chicago Botanic Garden, Lurie Garden in Millennium Park, and the Lincoln Park Conservatory.

Personal Update: YAY! The electricity and the cable was restored on Saturday. Thank you to everyone for all your notes and well wishes. Nice to know someone reads my blog. Glad to be back with you.

Here are this month’s four first pages that were sent to Agent Alexandra Penfold.


Chapter OneImportant Mission

I know the note is serious, because it has the Ultimate Code Letters. Written in Frankie’s clear, even hand, the paper I hold tells me two things. One, she has something to tell me. Two, it is something secret and exciting. I know all this from just three letters: KCM.

I quickly drop my response into the plastic bucket tied to the double looped laundry line my parents let me rig between our two bedroom windows. Every summer, Frankie’s family rents the same cottage, the one closest to my house, a.k.a. the Home Away Inn. They just got here two days ago, but Frankie and I are already right back to where we left off last August. I send my note back the way hers had come to me, pulling the cord hand over hand while the bucket sways and the pulley squeaks. Soon, she reaches out her window and my note is whisked inside.

Frankie looks at me and points to her wrist. The KC Meeting is now. I have to move fast.

“Whoa, hey, where ya headed, Parker?” asks Mom as I round through the living room on my way to the back door. She has a cookbook on her lap and is planning this week’s menu. People come to the Home Away Inn for two things: the view, and the food. At least that’s what our online blurb says.

“To play in the woods with Frankie,” I say. This is my own version of an Ultimate Code for getting mom to let me do what I want. She’s powerless against it.

Here’s what Alexandra had to say:


The first line has the makings of a great hook, but it doesn’t quite deliver. The first part of the sentence is drawing the reader in, but when you get to the “ultimate code letters” as a reader that casual reference broke my suspension of disbelief. You want your reader to be reading along saying to themselves “and then what happened…” not “wait, what happened?” A lot of your first page feels like back story, so moments like where you say “People come to the Home Away Inn for two things: the view, and the food. At least that’s what our online blurb says” is great because it gives you a solid sense of the character’s voice without just explaining. While I don’t feel completely hooked here, I think you’ve allowed until white space and mystery on the page that I would likely read on.


Steevi the sophisticated seagull by Cate Williams – PB

From the moment he hatched, Steevi knew that he was different. And it wasn’t just because of the way the feathers stuck up on his head.

At dinner, while his brother and sister fought loudly over left overs, he would sit in the corner of the nest with his wings over his ears.

“He’s a very sensitive seagull,” his mother would say.

Steevi would only eat snails, so every evening his mother sat outside the French restaurant.

“I don’t want you hanging about there, it’s dangerous. You can get him snails from the gardens,” said Steevi’s father impatiently.

“But he likes them cooked in garlic. He’s a very sophisticated seagull,” his mother insisted.

When the young were ready for flying lessons, Steevi took to the sky with confidence.

“Look at Steevi fly! He’s a very stylish seagull,” his mother cried, proudly clapping her wings.

She told everyone who would listen that Steevi took after his Great Uncle Jonathan Livingston Seagull. “On the maternal side,” she would add whenever Steevi’s father was within earshot.

Once they could fly the young gulls were allowed to scavenge for food at the rubbish dump. But Steevi didn’t want to be part of a squabble of seagulls. He preferred to be alone and flew off in the opposite direction to admire the flowers at the Botanic Gardens.

Instead of fighting with the other gulls outside fish and chip shops, Steevi would perch on the railings of the boats in the harbour and listen to classical music while he waited for oysters.

Most nights he would go to the French restaurant at closing time to collect l’escargot from Pierre, the waiter. His family barely saw him.

Here’s what Alexandra had to say:

Steevi the Sophisticated Seagull (Picture book)
By Cate Williams

Your sense of humor shines through in this text, I do wonder however where the story is going I don’t know that I get enough of the sense of conflict yet and in a picture book I think that I want to have a sense of that conflict sooner. While the way that Steevi’s mother explains away his behaviors does feel familiar and true to life, as I was reading it I couldn’t help but think of Ame Dyckman’s recent book WOLFIE and how one of the big ongoing jokes is how the parents praise away realistic concerns about the wolf baby. It might be worth looking into that. I would likely read on to see where this is going.


THE DESTINY MATRIX by Chris L. Owens   YA SciFi

The shivering was the worst. I couldn’t stop it. I struggled to sit up, but restraints bound me to some kind of table. A killer migraine got worse with every move I made.

I yelled, but a weak croak was all that came out. It took several tries to find my voice.

“Hey! Where am I?” A puff of steam punctuated each word.

No response came at first, but someone was listening after all.

“That Jason Martyr kid just woke up,” a male voice said in the distance. “He doesn’t sound bad off though. Sometimes they wake up blubbering like babies.”

After my eyes adjusted to the lack of light, I turned my head to one side. A body lay on a gurney a few feet away. A girl’s body, covered with a sheet from head to toe.

Panic set in, and I screamed again. My skull wailed in agony.

“Yo, dude! There’s a dead body in here! C’mon man, get me out!” Laughter was the only response.

After a few minutes, I gave up hope. But then a second voice whispered nearby. “Is it true what they said? He resisted her?”

“Yeah, he’s not a normal case. Quinn drugged him before she brought him in.”

Then I remembered how I got to this place. It all started with Lorelei Quinn. I should’ve known she was trouble the first time I met her.

Three weeks earlier

“Dude, that’s the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen,” Boyd said.

I didn’t argue with my best friend this time. For once, he was right.

Here’s what Alexandra had to say:


Watch out in that first paragraph for the repetition of “worse” and “worst” as that can distract the reader and take them out of your storytelling. These are great lines: “Then I remembered how I got to this place. It all started with Lorelei Quinn. I should’ve known she was trouble the first time I met her.” They really hook me as a reader and make me want to read on. This first page does a great job providing just enough clues to orient your reader to the situation while still leaving plenty of space for mystery and intrigue. Nice work!


Wiggin’s the Lonely Mailbox by Lucille Lantz – MG

In the middle of the block stood a big white house surrounded by a beautiful garden of flowers. Inside the house was empty. The patio furniture was gone. The large umbrella that gave shade on a sunny summer day was gone. The bicycle wasn’t in the backyard shed. There was not even a ball lying on the ground. Suzy’s jump rope was no longer hanging on a tree branch. On top of a tattered white post in front of the house sits Wiggins the mailbox.

Wiggins could remember the days when he was filled with letters, invitations, bills, advertisements and his favorite, Suzy’s report cards. Wiggins enjoyed peeking into the windows on the envelopes. Now that the house was empty, Wiggins was empty too.

It had been a very long time since Marty the letter carrier lifted Wiggins’ red flag. Wiggins latch was old and rusty and Marty would carefully unhook the latch, place the mail safely inside, and lift Wiggins’ flag. The red flag let the family know that there was mail delivered.

Wiggins’ bright yellow paint was beginning to chip. The white paint on the post that held Wiggins firmly in place was worn, but Wiggins didn’t care what he looked like. His tattered and worn paint did not bother him at all. Wiggins was empty, so very empty inside. “There is nothing worse than being a mailbox without mail” thought Wiggins.

Marty passed the empty house everyday on his mail route. Wiggins could hear Marty’s familiar happy whistle. Every day Wiggins hoped there would be something for him. How he longed to see the joy on Suzy’s face when she saw his red flag standing straight up. However,

Here’s what Alexandra had to say:

Wiggins the Lonely Mailbox

I’d like to see you open with more of a hook. Something like this:  “Wiggins could remember the days when he was filled with letters, invitations, bills, advertisements and his favorite, Suzy’s report cards” is nostalgic, it gives us a sense of how things were while hinting that it’s no longer the case. Reading through the page I feel like the tone and voice seems younger than middle grade so I’m curious with where you’re going to take the story and how you’re going to pull it off. Having a (typically) inanimate object as your protagonist can present a challenge in terms of relatablity to your reader. I’d like to see some more action and sense of conflict here to hook me in.

Thank you Alexandra for taking your valuable time to help the writers out their to hone their writing skills.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Kathy, glad you are back and electricity flowing again! Thanks for fling this. I learned a lot from the critiques even tho my page was not among the chosen


    • Joanleotta,

      I think you are my first Joanleotta. Have you met other people with your name? I bet there is a story behind that name. Thanks for your comment. Nice to know people were pulling for me to get my electric back. I was such a baby without it.



  2. Hi Kathy, Glad your power is up and running! Thanks for featuring my illustration. Quite a range of stories here… Many poignant points brought up in the reviews by Agent Alexandra Penfold!


    • Michelle,

      It looks like a lot of people enjoyed your illustration. I kept wondering what the scene in your illustration would look like if it was hit by the storm that hit me. I bet you could still make it look beautiful.



  3. Nice Illustration Michelle! There is a lot of movement and fun in this one.
    Kathy, thank goodness your electricity is back!


    • Heather,

      Yes, thank goodness the electric is back on. I would not be a good candidate for time travel – maybe forward, but not back in time.



  4. So glad you’re okay, Kathy. Love Michelle’s illustration. And the critiques were helpful. 🙂


    • Tracy,

      As I always say, “We can all pick up something from things said about other people’s first pages.”
      How have you been? Hope it is all good.



  5. Thank you for offering these monthly critiques. I had been submitting for months, and was fortunate enough to be selected this time! Thanks also to Ms. Penfold for contributing her time and insight.


    • Chris,

      I am so happy that you kept trying and didn’t give up. That is an important trait to have in this business.
      Enjoyed reading your first page.


      Liked by 1 person

  6. Glad things are back on track for you, Kathy! I love reading the work of others and the critiques provided here. Thanks for being a source of great information for us all!


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