Posted by: Kathy Temean | October 30, 2015

Free Fall Friday – Results – Vicki Selvaggio

vicki sel

Agent Vicki Selvaggio

The results are in and agent Vicki Selvaggio did a terrific job. This is the first month where everyone who submitted sent in a picture book.

I want to thank Vicki for taking her valuable time to help all of us learn from her expertise. I really appreciate it and I am sure everyone visiting Writing and Illustrating appreciates it too.

Reminder to the newbies out there: Even if your first page was not chosen, you can still learn just as much from reading the first page that were critiqued. If  you have a minute perhaps you could leave a comment for Vicki to thank her for sharing. Thanks!

Here are the four first pages:

 

Chris Regier           The Gift that is You                  Picture Book

Alot had to happen before you were ours,

a child made of dust, a child made of stars.

Creation of Universe (Particles)

So, what was the first thing that gave life its chance?

A bang out of nowhere made dust that could dance.

That dust shook its bootie all over the place

with smokin’ hot dance moves that lit outer space.

These stars did the twist at a great, cosmic ball

and Sun’s brilliant moves were the hottest of all.

(Newborn)

The day you were born we looked deep in your eyes

and saw a reflection of light from the skies.

A twinkle of stardust you simply cant hide.

A gift from the cosmos you carry inside.

Earth (Cells)

The Moon beamed at Earth and they joined in the fun.

The attraction was mutual. They twisted. They spun.

But Earth was all gassy. It burped and it farted.

It wasn’t a place for the shy or fainthearted.

With ice packs and heat it began to get well

and somehow that treatment created a cell.

(One Year Old)

We snuggled you close as we kissed all your pieces.

From bottom to top. All your rolls and your creases.

From inside to outside youre perfectly you.

Earth gave you this gift, a life shiny and new.

HERE IS VICKI:

THE GIFT THAT IS YOU (Picture Book)

Whenever I receive a submission such as this first page, I always format it (for myself, if it’s not already formatted this way) in a stanza format, so that I can easily see two important things to think about when reviewing (and writing) in rhyme—Rhyme and Rhythm. Rhyme is the matching of syllables and sounds, usually at the end of the line, and rhythm creates the long and short patterns through stressed and unstressed syllables. When written perfectly, the rhyme and rhythm of a story will be pleasing to the ear!

While writing in this format is challenging for many reasons (most aren’t interested, if it’s not done well), there are key reasons to master it (children enjoy it and it assists with teaching about reading and writing). Most of us will agree as we remember some of those wonderful Nursery Rhymes.

This first page of THE GIFT THAT IS YOU has such a sweet tone to it. I appreciate how the author portrayed the creation of Earth and the creation of a human being, weaving them together in such a simple way.

There are a few places where the rhythm is off: (a child made of dust, a child made of stars) (Missing a beat, suggest adding “and” and removing comma), (But Earth was all gassy. It burped and it farted) (One beat too many, suggest revising), (It wasn’t a place for the shy or fainthearted) (One beat too many, suggest revising), (We snuggled you close as we kissed all your pieces) (One beat too many, suggest revising), (From bottom to top. All your rolls and your creases) (One beat too many, suggest revising). But with this author’s talent, I’m sure this can be easily corrected.

A few things to think about, while most tend to be very open-minded, this story does cover a topic which some may not agree with, due to religious reasons. So as I always encourage authors to write what they are passionate about, keep in mind, not everyone will agree with your views and when writing on certain topics, it may limit the marketability of a manuscript. In addition, the story feels like a bit more building is needed with more content alternating between each creation (right now we have: Universe—particles, to newborn, to Earth—cells, to One-year-old child—seems like we need a little more). I’d also like to see the content relating to each other more (meaning, I feel the stanzas aren’t in the right place). And finally, this line I’d suggest thinking about further (Earth gave you this gift, a life shiny and new), as while we don’t need to get into the complexity of conception—clarity is needed.

Overall, this manuscript shows the strengths of the author and is a good start. I’d encourage a bit more perfecting on this.

The Gift that is You by Chris Regier

A lot had to happen before you were ours, (11)

a child made of dust, a child made of stars. (10) add and or another beat 

Creation of Universe (Particles) (all 11)

So, what was the first thing that gave life its chance?

A bang out of nowhere made dust that could dance.

That dust shook its bootie all over the place

with smokin’ hot dance moves that lit outer space.

These stars did the twist at a great, cosmic ball

and Sun’s brilliant moves were the hottest of all. 

(Newborn) (all 11)

The day you were born we looked deep in your eyes

and saw a reflection of light from the skies.

A twinkle of stardust you simply cant hide.

A gift from the cosmos you carry inside. 

Earth (Cells) (beats off where noted)

The Moon beamed at Earth and they joined in the fun.

The attraction was mutual. They twisted. They spun.

But Earth was all gassy. It burped and it farted. (12)

It wasn’t a place for the shy or fainthearted. (12)

With ice packs and heat it began to get well

and somehow that treatment created a cell. 

(One Year Old) (beats off where noted)

We snuggled you close as we kissed all your pieces. (12)

From bottom to top. All your rolls and your creases. (12)

From inside to outside youre perfectly you.

Earth gave you this gift, a life shiny and new.

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

 ALIENS IN MY BACKYARD by Lorraine Nelson (Picture Book)

There are aliens in my backyard. It’s true. They landed here last night while we were all sleeping, and this morning Mom found them digging up carrots and potatoes for some weird alien stew they were making.

She invited them to join us for Sunday Brunch, which is how Mom, Dad, Polly, Dolly and I ended up sitting at the kitchen table with three bright orange aliens, eating waffles and scrambled eggs.

“You guys sure are noisy,” I yelled, over their slurping.

“Rodney Beaker!” Mom exclaimed. “That’s just rude. Apologize this instant.”

“Sorry,” I mumbled.

“Sorry,” they chorused.

“They’re weird,” said the twins.

“Weird,” they repeated, pointing at my sisters.

“Maybe that’s how they learn languages,” Dad explained. “By listening and imitating us.” He was right. By the time Brunch was over, they spoke perfect English. It was amazing.

Mom called the President to see what he suggested we do with them, and by the time the dishes were done, cars, vans and helicopters started arriving in our driveway.

Men in white lab coats surrounded the aliens, poking and prodding them with all kinds of instruments. Reporters with microphones and TV cameras surrounded the aliens, jostling the scientists for room.

Famous movie directors started arriving by private jet and began pushing their way in among the scientists and reporters in order to make the aliens an offer

HERE’S VICKI:

ALIENS IN MY BACKYARD (Picture Book)

As children, of all ages, continue to be fascinated with Aliens, the author has selected a concept that has the potential to be fun, humorous, and interesting. With that said, there are a lot of Alien books available on the market. I often suggest that an author research the market as thoroughly as possible––when crafting/creating, make sure there are enough unique qualities to make it stand above other manuscripts available.

This first page of ALIENS IN MY BACKYARD conveys so much information to the reader—what the story is about, information on the characters, sense of time, sense of place, what’s happening, and more. I was thrilled to find that the main character is a boy—how many of you felt that way, too? As I don’t know the word count on this full manuscript, I would encourage limiting some of the information—illustrations will bring the text to life—so not every detail is needed.

I do find myself thinking about the Plot, while trying to focus on the heart of the story. As the author gives us a good amount of information, I’d like a little less of the information not vital for moving the story forward and a tad more on the main character. In addition, I’m trying to decipher the true conflict of this story—Aliens? Rodney? And I’m not quite sure if Rodney is happy about this Alien intrusion or not.

As this first page is a good start, there are many places the sentences could be stronger and I’d omit words not needed for clarity (weird alien stew (they were making—I’d remove this portion…not needed)). I’d also look at this first line, which I suggest revising (There are aliens in my backyard. It’s true. They landed here last night while we were all sleeping, and this morning Mom found them digging up carrots and potatoes for some weird alien stew they were making.)—it is the hook, make sure it packs enough oomph to capture your reader.

So some definite things to think about—with a little more character building, Plot development, while tightening up the manuscript throughout, there is a lot of room for HUMOR…especially the weird alien stew—when adding these words, make each count. Possibly, it’s not potatoes and carrots they’re digging up? If pushing for humor, here’s a good place to start. If not pushing for humor, then continue building this story as you focus on what you want to convey to the reader.

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

IF I WERE A BIRD, Picture Book by Lynne Marie

Outside my open window, a snowy owl stirs the silent night. “Hoot…Click. Click. Click.”

I peer into the moonlight and return its call. “Hoot…Click. Click. Click.”

I hear the rustle of feathers, then quiet, as the snowy owl begins its journey.

If I too were a snowy owl…I would point toward the moon and soar into the velvet night and fly until sunrise.

If I were a grey heron…

I would rise with the earthworms, then awaken the sun with a flap, flap, thwap of my wings.

If I were a flamingo…

I would carry the dawn on my shoulders, trailing pink across the horizon.

If I were a peacock…

I would illuminate the sky in brilliant hues with a swish, swish, and swish as I fan my tail.

If I were a swan…

I would catch an afternoon wind in my wings like a sail, and float around with lazy clouds.

If I were a stork…

I would carry dark storm clouds away, and deliver the soft, delicate bundles to the seas.

If I were a kestrel…

I would hover over the horizon, and watch the sun descend, like a ripe, falling orange.

If I were a snowy owl…

I would rise under the blanket of darkness and shine like the moon. I’d call to sleepy children, “Hoot. Click. Click. Click.” I’d pause just a moment to see if they call back.

And when my flight ended, I would think of the softness of my bed and <yawn>.

Sleep.  [*Art Note: Child asleep in nest, with the imagined birds nestled around.]

HERE IS VICKI:

IF I WERE A BIRD (Picture Book)

When I think of peaceful, hushed, soft…this manuscript’s tone conveys those adjectives perfectly. And as all nighttime books, it leaves the reader in a wonderfully relaxed mood—perfect for reading before bedtime!

On this first page of IF I WERE A BIRD, the author starts the reader off with the sounds of a snowy owl, which leads to a journey of creativity of a child encountering other birds while capturing the essence of morning to night. Ending once again, with the snowy owl.

While the text carries quite a burden of portraying this story, the author has left enough room for illustrations to bring this text to life. And while I appreciate the illustrator’s note, I’m not sure an illustrator would need it (all right to leave it in), as the text already paints a nice picture and one may conclude this story (visually) as clarified. I do like the ending, but suggest possibly making it less predictable.

I tend to gravitate to stories such as this. But as I say this, there are challenges here. Some may consider this story as being too quiet.  And as there is a constant push for lower word count, more character-driven stories, plots with higher stakes—standing out in an overcrowded market is vital for success.

Overall, this is a good start! I’d suggest a bit more creativity.

Ask: Can you build more layers off the birds you’ve selected, providing facts and information for the reader in the back of the book? What ways can you develop this idea further? As you’ve provided the sound that the snowy owl makes, possibly adding a guide on the sounds of the other birds could be added (something geared toward children, fun and interactive). Or possibly interesting daytime/nighttime facts of the birds and how that relates to children/adults? As I don’t want to overwhelm the text, I do encourage thinking outside the box. And finally, just a quick note on voice…while I love the voice, watch sophisticated words (remember the age group this is geared toward).

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

MARY MOO MOOOOVES! A picture book by Kirsten Bock

Mary Moo did not behave like the other cows on Dungberry Farm.

Other cows twitched their tails left, right, left, right.

Mary Moo tied hers in a tail-bun.

Other cows stretched their jaws. Chew, chomp, chew, chomp.

Mary Moo stretched her calves.

Other cows moo, moo, moo’ed sun up to sun down.

Mary Moo did not moo.

She mo-o-o-o-oved!

Prance, kick, follow-through.

            Headstand, whoops! Black and blue.

            “You have bovine blood,” said her sister Daisy. “Act like it.”

“I’m a gymnast,” said Mary-Moo. “Gymnasts do not moo.”

Mary Moo knew she’d never be a true gymnast here among the cow patties.

So she set off for the Manureville Olympics.

Manureville hustled and bustled.

Hurdling hyenas, diving dolphins, curling crustaceans.

Not a single cow.

Dungberry Farm felt a million pastures away.

Mary Moo tied her tail-bun tighter and thought non-moo thoughts.

A chipmunk balanced on the beam.

Prance, dance, flying flair.

HERE’S VICKI:

MARY MOO MOOOOVES! (Picture Book)

A cow as a gymnast––what a cute concept! As I’ve just touched the surface with this first page of MARY MOO MOOOOVES, I’m beginning to speculate how many challenges/obstacles Mary Moo may encounter during her journey. And the potential for humor—written correctly, this could be hilarious. The illustrations will bring another level of life to this manuscript. In addition, manuscripts with hidden messages are also a favorite of mine—while I never want to be “told” the meaning/message, or have a manuscript with a “preachy” feel, I do enjoy those that teach in a subtle way. This manuscript has the potential for that as well, with many messages.

When I think of plot, this manuscript has the foundation pretty well set, I know the main character, I know her problem/conflict—now I need to see the rest of the manuscript…Are the stakes high enough? Is there enough character development? Does Mary Moo grow considerably at the end of the manuscript?

While there’s much to like here, I also see many ways to strengthen the manuscript, especially the very first line—does it capture your readers? For me, I’d consider revising slightly. In the rhyming section, there is a beat too many and I suggest revising to this: Prance, kick, follow-through. Flip, whoops! Black and blue. I’d also reconsider the dialogue––readers can get to this clarification on their own, with the right words and illustrations. I love the wordplay…I’d incorporate more humor (the rhyme is great start—now, if wanting to keep the humor content in rhyme…that’s something to consider. But I’d suggest using perfect rhyme and rhythm throughout each stanza.). For helping readers connect to the main character, I’d like to see more sensory elements (see/hear/feel/taste/smell)—the majority of manuscripts that cross my desk include only seeing/hearing of the main character…interesting, right? I’d also add a little more on the setting, but again, remember the illustrations will bring this life. And finally, keep the word count in mind.

Overall, a good start to a manuscript with potential.

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

Dear Chris, Lynne, Lorraine, Kirsten & Kathy:

I truly enjoyed spending time on your manuscripts. Each of you has a special talent for creating a story, and I commend the willingness to put work out there for all to see. This…THIS is not an easy thing! As we all know, rejection, or in this case, receiving feedback is hard in any career. But the more we open ourselves up to the process, the easier it becomes…

Until, the day when everything clicks…and success is finally within reach.

Thank you, again, for sharing your manuscripts!

And of course, a special thank you to Kathy Temean. As a previous Regional Advisor for SCBWI: Northern Ohio, I know how much time and work goes into organizing such opportunities for writers. Please know, what you do and offer for writers, does make a difference!

All my best,

Vicki Selvaggio

Associate Agent The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency
31 East 32nd Street Suite 300
New York, N.Y. 10016
Twitter: Victoria Selvaggio @vselvaggio1
Facebook: Vicki Selvaggio
Linkedin: Victoria Selvaggio
http://www.victoriaselvaggio.com/
www.jdlit.com

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Responses

  1. Vicki, thank you so much! I love a good critique. They always show me new ways to polish and improve and that is my favorite thing to do!

    Kathy, thank you for this opportunity!

    • You’re welcome, Chris! Keep perfecting this…you have a very nice start.

    • Hi Chris – I really enjoyed your story and your ear for rhyme and meter is impeccable. I would have to disagree with Vicki in regards to counting syllables rather than stressed beats. The extra unstressed syllables at the end of the 12 syllable lines don’t interfere with the rhythm so I’d leave them as they are if I were you🙂 they also add variety to the verses. Also the comma in the second line behaves as a beat as it asks the reader to pause there and so takes up the time of one beat. So all good, in my opinion. Anyhoo – just my thoughts but really loved the story overall. Well done!

      • Jackie, thank you so much. I spent some time double checking today on a few poetry writing websites and everything you say is what I found also. Thought I had it right, but it never hurts to be sure and your backup is very, very much appreciated.

      • Chris,

        My pleasure. I enjoyed reading your first page and wish you the best with it.

        Kathy

      • You might be interested to read this little poem that I wrote (in rhyme and meter) about rhyme and meter – https://jackiehoskingblog.wordpress.com/2015/10/08/a-lesson-about-rhyme-and-meter-written-in-rhyme-and-meter/

      • Jackie & Chris,

        Happy face🙂 I do make mistakes–all of us do…!

        So I went back and looked at this again, making myself a graph of heavy/light stresses–establishing a pattern (the first/second verse–usually provide this foundation), as a template for the rest of the verses. Once a pattern is established,I look for and want consistency throughout.

        As noted, this manuscript has such a sweet tone to it. But my overall feel remains the same, a bit more perfecting needed.

        I’m happy to discuss this further with Chris at vselvaggio@windstream.net if he’d like.

  2. Enjoyed the detailed critique..learned a lot I can apply to my own work. Thank you Vicki

  3. Such awesome first pages and amazing critiques!

  4. The care and thought that went into these critiques is exceptional. It is heartening to see an agent give such detailed feedback. Just what we writers crave. Nice to meet you, Vicki.

    • Thank you! I’m passionate about writers and the writing process. It’s why I became an agent…as a previous Regional Advisor for SCBWI: Northern Ohio, I was limited. Now, I love responding to writers–all of my queries receive a personalized letter. Unfortunately, though, it takes me a LONG time to get back to everyone…but I do and will!

  5. Vicki, these critiques were so helpful with many of the aspects of writing picture books–rhyming and beats, sensory details, a strong hook, etc. Thank you for your thoughtful and thorough responses to these great submissions.

    • Thank you, Elaine! I’m glad my responses are helpful for everyone, not just the author.

      • Vicki,

        It was brought to my attention that the link you sent me for you website does not work. Could you let me know how to correct the address? Thanks!

        Kathy

  6. Lots of great feedback and helpful advice here! Thank you, Kathy and Vicki!

  7. I love reading these critiques. Vicki’s are so detailed and helpful.

  8. I enjoyed reading your critiques of these picture books, Vicki. Great job, everyone!

  9. Thank you so much for the detailed critique, Vicki! I can’t wait to start revising!

  10. Vicki, thank you so much for choosing my first page to critique. Your suggestions were so helpful and will really improve the story. Free Fall Fridays rock!

    • Hi Lorraine,

      This was posted a few times, so I’ll reply to this one only🙂.

      You’re welcome! You’re manuscript has a great start–I believe Kathy selects the pages, but I was happy to review it!

  11. Vicki, thank you so much for choosing my first page to critique. Your suggestions were so helpful and will really improve my story. Free Fall Fridays rock!

  12. Vicki, thank you so much for choosing my page to critique. Your suggestions were so helpful, and will really help improve my story. Free Fall Friday rocks!

  13. Very informative. Thank you for taking the time to do this!

  14. The first-page critiques are always insightful. I appreciate them very much, Kathy and those submitting! However, this installment was wonderful. You provided so much detail and care in your comments, Vicki! Thanks to you for helping us all (those reviewed and those observing) write better!

    • Thank you, Hally! I appreciate you taking the time to leave a reply.


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