Posted by: Kathy Temean | December 4, 2015

Free Fall Friday – Results

amy-05Agent Amy Stern has taken the time to read and Critique four of the first pages from the November submissions. 

Here’s a little bit about Amy:

Amy Stern started at the Sheldon Fogelman Agency in 2010 as an agent assistant and has spent the past five years taking on additional responsibilities while not quite believing that she gets to work with children’s books as her job. After receiving degrees in English and creative writing at Bryn Mawr College and masters degrees in children’s literature and library science at Simmons College, she interned at a literary agency and fell in love with the industry.

She taught science fiction and fantasy at the Simmons College Center for the Study of Children’s Literature, where she also got her MA in children’s literature and her MLS in library science.

BELOW ARE THE FOUR FIRST PAGES WITH AMY”S COMMENTS:

The Tale of the Snaggletooth Snark by Carol Murray – PB 

The Snaggletooth Snark, who lived in the park,

was as snippy as snippy could be.

He snarled at the snow, and he sniffed — on the go,

and he sneered at the Snipe in the tree.

So the Snipe went to speak to the snake in the creek

and the snubby-nosed snail and the rest,

and they planned a big party, invited the smarty,

and Snark was a wonderful guest.         

NOT! That Snark was a terrible pest!

He snapped at the snail, snatched the snake by the tail,

and made all the small snub-noses scream.

He snitched all the Snickers and sneered at the pickers

of snowberries for the ice cream.

He snarfed all the snacks and made sneaky attacks

on the snoozing old snipe, and what’s more,

he fed snicker-doodles to snowy-white poodles,

who drooled on the snowy-white floor.

He snipped Cousin Ruth with his sharp snaggletooth.

He was snooty and snorty and rude.

He snickered and sniggered and triggered a fight,

and he sneezed with his mouth full of food.

Oh, no! 

Then a large snapping turtle, named Millicent Myrtle,

snip-snapped her way onto the scene,

and she said to the Snaggletooth Snark from the park,

“Mr. Snark, there’s no need to be mean!

I suppose, if I chose, I could snap off your nose,

or could snip off your toes, one by one,

but I don’t like a struggle. I’d much rather snuggle,

‘cuz snorting and snarling aren’t fun.”

“Perhaps you are right,” said the Snark. “In a fight,

I feel mighty and powerful and BAD,

but, late in the day, when the sun goes away,

I feel sort of sorry and sad.”

So, the Snark took a nap, and while snoozing,

a snap! in his brain brought a change in his head,

and he thought, and he thought of the problems he’d

brought, and, half- snoozing, the Snaggletooth said,

“When I get out of bed, I’ll be pleasant, instead.

HERE IS WHAT AMY HAD TO SAY:

The rhythm of The Tale of the Snaggletooth Snark makes it  really engaging. While there are a few places where the cadence could be edited to be a bit more consistent, overall, I can imagine this as a fun read-aloud, enhanced by the rhyming and alliteration. This story is just fun to listen to.

The question I find myself asking, though, is how much of your submission is necessary to telling the story. A few of the lines feel like they’re there just for the sake of the rhyme or meter, and that can sometimes make even a short story feel bloated. Remember that the side effect of a picture book being so short is that every sentence fragment counts for so much more. Is there a way to rework them to make sure each line gives more development to character or plot in addition to being enjoyable to hear?

I’d also like to see some signs of the Snaggletooth Snark’s character arc beginning earlier. The Snark is mean, until Millicent Myrtle suggests he be nice, and he realizes he’d rather be nice anyway. But we’d never gotten any indication he didn’t enjoy being mean until Millicent Myrtle confronts him! His about-face seems designed to placate other characters, rather than genuine growth rooted in his character. Is there a way to either introduce the Snark’s uncertainty about his own behavior earlier, or make his transition less abrupt?

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

Halloween Showtime – Picture Book By: Jennifer Reinharz

The stage is built

The curtain hung

Doorbell rings

“Here they come!” {Illus note: Ghosts are talking about trick-or-treaters}

Welcome guests

Take our place

Music starts

Jitters fade {Illus note: The trick-or-treaters are nervous}

“BOO-GLE OOGLE IGGLE EEK!

A ghost’s life is for me

Haunt a house

Play after dark

Float through walls

Nap in graveyards

Make a mess

No reason to bathe

Devour candy

Skip the bellyache!

Soar with witches

Hide with ghouls

Sound like fun?

Join the crew

 

HERE IS WHAT AMY HAD TO SAY:

Halloween Showtime is a charming picture book told in short stanzas. While I found the not-quite-rhyming format slightly jarring, I appreciate the consistency in matching on vowels but not consonants; it makes the story flow smoothly and helps the reader not stumble on the near-rhymes.

I am a bit confused with perspective, though. The second illustration note here indicates that the fading jitters belong to the trick-or-treaters, but the rest of the manuscript seems to be approaching Halloween night from the ghosts’ perspective. Or are the trick-or-treaters more nervous while the ghouls become less so? Who do you want your readers to be identifying with, and how can you make sure they’re at the center of the narrative?

One thing I’d be cautious about here is that there are a lot of Halloween books out there, and- as I’m sure you know- for every book that exists in stores, there are at least dozens of books with similar concepts that hit editors’ desks, and hundreds that come in to agents. For this reason, it’s really important to make sure your Halloween story stands out from other ones out there. When you’re working on revisions, make sure to focus on what makes this particular story special.

Despite these concerns, though, this is a lot of fun to read, and I think you’re definitely on the way to a solid manuscript.

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

Half-Truths by Carol Baldwin – Young Adult

Dead bodies don’t bother me. They’re quiet, unlike my sister Gloria, who barely breathes between sentences.

When I need a place to think, I sit at my desk—plywood balanced on cinderblocks—

in the embalming room at my father’s funeral home.

I’ve got an old embalming book rescued from his trash, three new pencils Gloria can’t steal, and the latest copy of Ebony hidden from Mama. She fusses I’m too young, but I’m almost sixteen and how else is a gal supposed to keep up with the latest fashions?

When Mr. Levi, my biology teacher, announced at the back-to-school meeting today that Second Ward High is having its first science fair this year, goose bumps pricked my skin.

Over the summer I helped him write the science fair application. We were approved! My pulse races just thinking about it. We’ll be the first Negro school in North Carolina to compete in a nationally recognized science fair.

‘Course I plan to win. It’s just a matter of figuring out my experiment.

I undrape the corpse on the steel table. It’s Mrs. Jackson, church choir director, without one of her infamous hats. Died in her sleep last night. Terribly sad she never got to see her last daughter married.

The calendar says September, but it’s sweltering outside. Mrs. Jackson would be mortified if she knew she smelled bad. Daddy is always wishing he knew how to keep dead bodies from decomposing so quickly.

If only I had an answer for him.

HERE IS WHAT AMY HAD TO SAY:

Half Truths gets off to an engaging beginning. I appreciate how many aspects that I assume will be important to the story are introduced in the opening page. You did a particularly good job of establishing the story as historical without making the character or her life feel dated. Moreover, I have an idea of what will guide the narrative, and how I can guess those points will intersect.

That said, if the protagonist’s science fair project will not have to do with refrigeration or some other way to keep things- including corpses- fresh, or if you want that to be more of a surprise, you may want to reconsider the focus here, because it feels very straightforward at this point. I want to clarify that straightforward isn’t bad, and it’s important to establish where the story is going from the very beginning- if not literally where the plot is headed, then certainly thematically and emotionally- but it’s okay to be more circumspect if you want.

That said, I’d be cautious of infodumps. Some information seems to be presented more to throw facts at the reader, and this is particularly important to avoid in a first person manuscript. The second sentence in particular jumped out at me here; it feels more like I’m hearing what the author wants me to know than what the protagonist is likely to be thinking.

You may also want to be careful of transitions. For example, how does the protagonist get from reading Ebony to her biology teacher’s announcement? There doesn’t need to be a literal transition, but it needs to feel like, in some way, there is a natural connection, at least in her head.

This is a solid start, and the more comfortable the reader is in our narrator’s head, the stronger it will be.

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

Little Magic Gets a Life by Susie Sylvia – Middle Grade

My name is Little Magic. I’m a very handsome tomcat, maybe just a little bit overweight, and these days I enjoy a pampered lifestyle with my super cool human, two girl kitties, and a dog who’s my BFF. But sometimes I still have nasty nightmares from my days as a lonely stray – when I was always scrounging for my next meal, a safe place to sleep, and constantly looking over my shoulder. Believe me, that is no way to live. Let me tell you my story. . .

I was born in a cardboard box full of smelly old towels in a storage shed of an auto dealership. About ten minutes after we were weaned, my Mom and sister took off to a new home with one of the salesmen while I was out exploring. And just like that I was all alone without even a whisker kiss goodbye. Talk about miserable times – especially when it got chilly at night – and I would frequently go for days without a decent meal. I was never taught how to hunt (thanks a lot, Mom) but hunger pangs forced me to figure it out. My nose eventually led me out of the storage shed to a nearby suburban apartment complex where I could smell food cooking on a regular basis. I spent a couple of months there, sleeping in the bushes or trees, or behind the buildings, hiding from lurking dogs, raccoons, skunks, juvenile delinquents, and that nasty guy who was always snooping around. He was some kind of authority figure around there, and nobody seemed to like him. He wasn’t hard to miss, though, because I could always smell him long before I saw him. He reeked of sour body odor and stale cigarettes, enough to make me gag. Meals were a problem, but I occasionally got lucky with leftovers from some of the nicer residents in the complex. But I scrounged up most of my food from a dumpster area where scraps were always scattered around. Catching a bird was a nice treat, but always a bunch of trouble with all those feathers and claws. Especially when they get stuck in your teeth.

HERE IS WHAT AMY HAD TO SAY:

Little Magic Gets a Life is a middle grade animal story about a handsome tomcat and, presumably, how he ultimately succeeds in life. In my experience, first-person animal stories are tough; when done well, they can be incredibly rewarding reads, but you really have to engage your reader’s suspension of disbelief.

This can be difficult, because cats (presumably!) have a completely separate set of standards than humans do. How much are you relying on human experiences of cats? Are these things Little Magic would take for granted? Are these things Little Magic would even know? How much of this knowledge would be accessible to him?

Be careful about telling versus showing. How much of your first page could be conveyed through scenes that let the reader live vicariously through Little Magic, rather than just his summary of events? The more we experience rather than hear about, the more we can connect with him and his world.

Based on this first page, I don’t really have a feeling of where this story is going. I’m not sure what the story’s themes are, and I don’t feel like I know much about Little Magic as a character. Your first page needs to establish at least some of these points, and ideally all of them.

When revising, above all, you’ll want to consider how you can encourage your reader to come deeper into Little Magic’s world.

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

Thank you Amy for sharing your time and expertise with us. We all learn from your comments. Thank you.

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Responses

  1. Thanks for the comments, Amy. Very helpful. And thanks Kathy, for sponsoring this critique.

  2. Amy comments are very helpful. Thanks, Kathy and Amy.🙂


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