Posted by: Kathy Temean | July 31, 2015

Free Fall Friday – Results – Alex Slater

Alexander SlaterAgent Alex Slater from the Trident Media Group agreed to be our guest critiquer for July. Thank you Alex for sharing your expertise with all of us. We really do appreciate your time.

I have include Alex’s information at the bottom.

Here are the results for the four first pages randomly chosen for critique.

DARK INK, BLACK HOLES by J. Fanucchi – Young Adult  

Chapter One: Rave

Justin Vandermeer caught a glimpse of the creature as it darted between two gyrating teens wearing bunny masks. The smoke from the fog machines and the insistent flashing of strobe lights were playing games with Justin’s perceptions but he was quite positive of what he had seen.

Cupping his hands to his mouth he tried to make his voice heard over the pulsating beat of the electronica music being spun by tonight’s musical shaman, DJ PLUR. “Hey Stephen. Over here.”

A man wearing a fedora hat, leather ankle length trench coat and safari boots squeezed his way through a throng of Kandi kids who accentuated their seductive dance with glow sticks.

“Did you see something?” Stephen pushed back his fedora to mop a sheen of sweat from his brow.

“Yeah. Over here.” Justin moved forward to a barely illuminated hallway.

“Piercers? You saw one?”

“Come on.” Justin frantically gestured.

“What did it look like?”

“You’ll know when you see it?”

At the end of the hall makeshift bathrooms had been built for the ravers to relieve themselves since the plumbing in the abandoned Portland Gas & Coke factory had not been active since 1957.

Here’s what Alex had to say:


From the first sentence I can tell this story is going to encourage weird, slightly dark, and provocative emotions from the reader. In other words, I like it! The opening sentence is captivating because it catches the reader off-guard with an unusual image, one that requires explanation, and therefore implores us to read on. The author uses this device well, in that it is not overused or manipulated just to catch our attention. It’s a legitimate description for the scene since the action takes place in a rave, and a chase is apparently on.

The sentences thereafter are dense with setting details, but they keep their rhythm for the most part. Be careful not to bloat the prose in these opening pages with too many place details – if your action is moving swiftly and clearly, trust the reader to follow you. For example, “accentuated their seductive dance with glow sticks,” feels complex, when, “danced with glow sticks,” gets the point across fine, especially since we already know they are, “gyrating.”

“Piercers,” are introduced naturally and organically in the dialogue, and it’s another great device to encourage me to want more. (Careful of an unnecessary question mark in there.) It’s a strong, in media res start for what I can tell will be a dark paranormal tale.


The Eye of Darwin – Gayle C. Krause                                     YA- Science Fiction

It’s one thing to wish your annoying brother would disappear off the face of the earth—it’s another when it really happens. Ryan’s military burial last year was the second worst day of my life. Today is the first. He should be here, now. He’d know what to do. He always did.

Black Hummers cruise down our street. “I don’t like this, Emmie,” I whisper, endlessly twist my ring around my finger. “They’re coming too close.

Dad isn’t here and neither is Mom. It’s up to me to keep us from being captured by whoever they are. “Can you see them, Ems?”

“Yes,” she gasps. With each blink, her hazel eyes grow wider. They usually turn from green to a cloudy blue depending on what she wears, but today they’re the color of fear. “I’m scared, Kiara. What if they find us?”

“They’d need X-ray vision to find us in all this junk.” Emmie’s father’s garage looks like a neighborhood garage sale, only the stuff’s all his. Her father wasn’t career military like my dad, whose motto was ‘a place for everything and everything in its place.’ Here, tools are scattered in every space not covered with bicycle parts, lawn mowers, and weed whackers. With all its crap, the garage makes an excellent hideout to spy on the strange soldiers.

“Kiara.” Emmie closes her eyes and sucks in a nervous breath. “What do those guys want?” She turns toward the cracked garage window.

“How should I know?” I hunker down, my eyes even with the windowsill. “They look too young to be real military and their uniforms aren’t like Ryan’s, so I can’t tell what kind of soldiers they are. In fact, they look like his friends playing some stupid war game, except they don’t have Alphaboxes in their hands. Those are real guns.”

 Here’s what Alex had to say:

THE EYE OF DARWIN by Gayle C. Krause

This page feels a tad off balance. In the opening sentences, we are introduced to a brother and his disappearance, but then the story jumps immediately into an action scene involving Hummers and soldiers. What I mean is, it feels like this really starts in the second paragraph, and the opening sentence, while strongly written and intriguing, is out of place in this scene. It might be good to save this first paragraph for later on in the narrative, when discussing Ryan and his story will be more imminent.

Be careful to avoid repeating words in the same simile, as it weakens the prose. “Garage looks like a neighborhood garage sale,” could use some more creativity. The last sentence in that paragraph also feels redundant, when in these vital opening pages, every word must be essential to the story being told.

Finally, the dialogue in the last paragraph felt a bit unnatural to me. Kiara is describing the scene more for the sake of the reader than for Emmie, and therefore the language comes off as stilted and revealing. In such a panicked moment, let Emmie save the details for later (“uniforms aren’t like Ryan’s,” “Alphaboxes,” etc.) and respond with more organic reactions.


Under the Fig Tree by Cecile Mazzucco-Than YA novel

Frankie swallowed hard. She had to just say it while they were all together for dinner.

“Ma, Pop.” She took a deep breath and pictured Margaret Sullavan in The Shop Around the Corner. Frankie had been a sales girl all summer. Two days ago she bought her sisters and brother their first pairs of brand new shoes. She knew she could get rid of the girls’ flour-sack dresses too, but she’d have to leave high school, and there was no easy way to break that kind of news to her family.

Her parents looked up, and three smaller heads turned to look at her, too. Whew! Frankie took another deep breath to slow her racing thoughts. Even Margaret Sullavan would sweat with all these eyes focused on her like spotlights.

“I’ve been thinking about something.” One glance at the ice box she knew she could replace with a gleaming Frigidaire and Frankie’s mind was made up for the hundredth time.

“Boys!” Eleven-year-old Agostina snickered. She reached around Frankie’s back to poke nine-year-old Caterina who giggled behind the hand she put over her mouth.

“Shush, Tina, and don’t pinch Rina.” Frankie sputtered, “Let me finish! I’ve been thinking about something important.”

“Ooh, that’s what you do in high school, Frankie.” Six-year-old Giuseppe laughed. “Lots and lots of important thinking. Carmine told me so.”

Carminuccio, che buon figlio.” Frankie’s mother patted her son’s head. “You’re lucky we have such a nice boy like Carmine in the neighborhood. He’s like a big brother for you, Beppe.” Frankie’s mother understood English well enough, but she always spoke in Italian. Her voice was sweet and smooth, and Frankie imagined it sounded like an echo from the Alpine mountains where her mother had been born. Tonight, Frankie didn’t want to listen to the family chatter. She just wanted to tell them all what she had decided to do.

Here’s what Alex had to say:

UNDER THE FIG TREE by Cecile Mazzucco-Than

The rhythm here feels choppy, and the sentences tend to run on without precision.  For example, the second sentence has some unnatural phrasing. I would think it flows better if it reads, “She just had to say it while they were all together,” rather than, “She had to just say it while they were all together.” This disrupted me.

Another example is the sentence, “One glance at the ice box she knew she could replace with a gleaming Frigidaire and Frankie’s mind was made up…” After rereading it, and speaking it aloud, it makes sense, but when I first read it, my eyes had a hard time jumping from “ice box,” to “she knew she could replace;” just difficult connecting it all. Try managing  sentences like this a bit better, and cutting out the fat when you can. By doing so, the reader is not tripped up along the way: “One glance at the ice box, which she knew she could replace with a gleaming Frigidaire, and Frankie’s mind was made up.”

Another thing that bothered me was the delay in getting to what Frankie actually has to announce. I know this is only the first page, but still, I could start to see myself losing patience. As a reader, I want to get hooked into the story fast. And trust me, editors want to get hooked even faster.


           Jennifer Kirkeby / THE PHOENIX THEATER / Middle Grade

Tears of happiness welled in Annabelle’s eyes as she beamed at the standing audience, still clapping enthusiastically during the fourth curtain call. She squeezed her parent’s hands as they took another bow. The audience roared. She squealed, and her parents laughed.

Annabelle had never felt so proud in her ten years of life. Not only had she just played her first leading role as the streetwise Ginny in the 1920’s production alongside her parents, but her father had also written and directed it. And if tonight’s audience reaction was any indication, Always was destined to be a huge hit.

She searched the fourth row and found her nanny, Marion, grinning back at her. She was brushing away the large tears that rolled down her dark rosy cheeks. They winked at each other as they had promised they would.

The photographers began their flashing frenzy, shooting blinding white light with every click. Each one hoped to capture the photo chosen for tomorrow’s paper. Her father thanked the audience and invited them all to the opening night party.

Annabelle would wonder about the following moment for years to come. How it began, why it happened, and if there was anything she or anyone else could have done to prevent it.

She smelled the smoke before she saw it. At first, Annabelle assumed it was the obnoxious stage manager, Thomas, who was forever puffing on one of his stinky cigars. But when she looked offstage left, ready to give him a death glare, she knew instantly that no cigar could create the black billowing smoke that was rolling in from under the door.

Here’s what Alex had to say: 

THE PHOENIX THEATER by Jennifer Kirkeby

This is an excellent opening page. The writing is clear and concise, the action is captivating and inviting, and the tension demands the reader read on. I liked the way the play’s name is revealed in a stylistic and natural way. I like the expressive language: “flashing frenzy,” “blinding white light,” “black billowing smoke.” Most of all, I like the way the author sets-up the tragedy that unfolds. It’s a useful device that is employed well here: introduce the moment from the future, as a point in history, thereby captivating the reader with curiosity: what event could stand so tall in a character’s memory? Then, introduce the moment in all its horribleness. Therefore, the reader sees the moment as the character sees it: epic, irrevocable, and in the past. This is a great example of how to tease the reader in the opening pages, which is an effective technique.


Here is more info about Alex:

He is looking to build his list. When asked how he became an agent at Trident, concentrating in the expanding children’s, middle grade and young adult businesses, Alex simply replies, “It was only natural.” While karma is not an established business concept, it is clear that Alex’s career arc led him in this happy direction.

Start with Alex’s love of fiction, and in particular the stories that captivate the minds and imaginations of young people, from those so young that books are read to them, to young adults who get captivated by creative fiction. “I love to let myself go, and become the reader, whether the story is directed at a ten-year-old or a teenager,” says Alex.

Next is Alex’s experience at Trident, where he has been since 2010. He became a very successful agent representing the company’s children, middle grade and young adult authors in many licensing arrangements in the global marketplace for translation and in the English language in the U.K., having placed books with publishers in dozens of countries. Alex was Trident’s representative at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair in Italy, as well as the broader-based London and Frankfurt book fairs. His experience in representing fiction in these areas showed him what elements in stories work well, and how to maximize the value of what an author has created.

He is now building his list domestically at Trident, while keeping his focus on these areas.

Alex’s plan is to, “Look for stories that will rise above the rest with characters that will be remembered well past childhood, with the potential to cross over to other media and formats,” such as programming, games, motion pictures and merchandise. “Trident is the leader on taking advantage of the latest opportunities presented by changing technology,” says Alex, and, “I will be there to help make the latest innovations happen for my authors.”

“I believe that the most successful writers have a bit of the dreamer in them.” And Alex passionately believes that he can help turn their dreams into reality.

What Alex is looking for: Alexander is interested in children’s, middle grade, and young adult fiction and nonfiction, from new and established authors. As he says, “I’m looking for projects that will rise above the rest…characters you’ll remember well past childhood…books that translate well to film because within them contain incredible stories, not because they’re the latest trend.” He particularly loves authors like Frank Portman, Jim Shepard, Jenny Han, and Rainbow Rowell.

How to submit: Send a query letter, pasted in the body of the email, to aslater [at] Your query should include only a paragraph about yourself, a brief plot pitch, and your contact information. Please do not send a manuscript or proposal until you have been requested to do so.

Follow him on Twitter: @abuckslater.

Talk tomorrow,


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