Here are the four first pages chosen for May and reviewed by Jaida Temperly agent at New Leaf Literary.
Text in red represents Jaida’s comments. Bold text indicates the text that corresponds with Jaida’s comments.
Jaida is actively building her Children’s and Adult list. She loves all things Middle Grade, especially those that are a bit quirky, strange, and fantastical. She’s also open to YA submissions (all genres), and picture books by author-illustrators with completed dummies.
For all other fiction (both Adult and Children’s) she has an affinity for magical realism, historical fiction, and literary fiction, as well as stories with a strong mystery and/or religious undertones (The Westing Game, A Discovery of Witches, The DaVinci Code, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, Outlander, The Rule of Four, etc.).
On the non-fiction side, she’s actively seeking topics that are offbeat and a bit strange (Stiff:The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, etc.), as well as photography projects that offer unique insight into the human experience (Humans of New York, The Scar Project, etc.).
Below are the four first pages with Jaida’s comments:
Plus – Julie Phend – Middle Grade
Chapter One: Bella
Bella peered out the passenger window as Mom slid their old blue Toyota into an open handicapped parking spot at Madison Middle School and hung the permit. Slow this down a bit. There’s a lot of action going on, which makes this a bit of a jarring first sentence.
Hordes of kids crowded the schoolyard. Boys tossed balls and raced across the grass. Skinny girls in tight leggings whispered behind cupped fingers and couples stood nearby, hands laced together.
Bella glanced at her mother. “I-I didn’t realize a thousand kids would be so many.” The words caught in her throat.
Mom smiled, taking Bella’s chin and looking into her eyes. “Plus it,” she said. This is a cool phrase but we don’t know what it means. I recommend inserting a single sentence putting this into context for readers.
Bella pursed her lips, thinking. “Okay. New faces means new friends, right?”
“That’s my girl.” Mom kissed Bella’s forehead and brushed a lock of hair from her eyes.
Bella glanced into the visor mirror and winced, yanking it back to cover her scars. Ohhh this is intriguing. But you pass over it too quickly. Again, give us a bit more context – where are the scars? How deep are they? Just a single line should do it.
“Stop it, Bella. You don’t need to hide. You’re beautiful just as you are.”
Bella made a face. “You always say that.”
“Because you are. Now, come on. I’ll walk you in.”
“Mother!” Bella slammed the visor up. “I’m in eighth grade.”
“You’re sure?” Mom’s voice rose, which meant she was getting nervous. “Do you have everything? Are your hearing aids on?” This is a bit wordy – I recommend picking an active verb to describe her voice. For example, “Mom’s voice pinched in her throat.” Or something similar to imply nervousness
“Yes, yes, and yes.” Bella leaned over to give her mom a quick peck on the cheek, and then opened the door. “See you after school.” She jumped out before Mom could say another word.
Jaida’s Notes: You do a really great job at setting the scene – I can absolutely see Bella and Mom peering out at the Middle School crowd! With that said, I recommend slowing the pacing down just a touch, so as to give us more context – the scars, the phrases, etc. Additionally, I recommend fleshing out Bella’s emotional arc. How does she feel about all of this? We know that Mom is nervous – but how is Bella reacting?
Amelia and the Viking Pirates – Susan E. Harris – MG Fantasy
“Listen to this!” Amelia read from the western thriller—John and the Pony Express: “ ‘Wanted. Young, skinny, wiry fellows not over eighteen. Must be expert riders, willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred. Wages $25 per week.’ ” She looked over at her sister. “That would’ve been the perfect job. I’d have traveled and been paid for it!”
Muriel laughed. “You are young and wiry. But you are certainly not a fellow.”
“Nor an orphan.” Amelia nodded her agreement. “And now the pony express no longer exists.”
I love this sisterly banter. Nice job. Really sets the tone and scene.
She turned her gaze to the rain streaked windows of the library. Then to the table covered with books and maps. A self-propelled, mechanized globe clicked away on a stand of delicate gears. Amelia loved using the attached magnifying glass, with its many colored lenses, to study the continents. A thrill ran through her as she thought about all the mysterious places she’d like to see—Egypt, India, China. Ancient ruins deep in a dark jungle. Crumbling Irish castles. Stonehenge. “But just think…I could’ve explored. I’d have had a real horse. I’d—”
“But who needs a real horse? Not with Edison’s Mechanical Marvels.” Love this detail! Muriel grinned from the armchair by the fireplace. “I heard he’s adding pug dogs to his pet line.”
“An elephant would be better,” said Amelia. She moved some yellowed maps and held up another book—Aladdin. “Or a flying carpet. Or…how about a flying elephant?!”
As she spoke she heard a low grumble reverberated across the room and the windows rattled.
Was that thunder? Amelia wondered as the windows began rattled ing. Don’t lead readers too much. Give us just enough to draw their own conclusions. This is just some suggested wording but feel free to tweak as you see fit. All the beautiful treasures that Grandpapa had collected vibrated on the shelves. Several antique vases and figurines fell and shattered. The large ormolu clock jumped but stayed in place on the mantel.
These sentences say similar things. Condense them into a single paragraph and then jump back to Amelia, so you don’t lose the pacing.
The rumble grew louder causing the house to hake. Then large shards of glass from the windows crashed in followed by leather boots attached to men swinging in on ropes.
Jaida’s Notes: This is such a great opening page. You immediately set the whimsical tone with the mentions of libraries, jungles, travel, etc. My only suggestion is to tighten up your writing when describing outside details – such as the grumbling in the room. At times you tend to repeat yourself, so condense the wording and use active verbs, so that your narrative packs just as great of a punch as your dialogue. Nice job!
Into Enemy Arms – Bebe Willoughby – Young Adult
Chapter 1, December 23, 1776 ,
I was running, moving fast. The cold air hit my face, and the snowflakes danced off my cloak. I couldn’t stop
I’d been out sketching an old farmhouse, and on the way home I’d seen a British soldier staring at me, and it seemed he was going to follow me. Give us more context here to set the scee. Where was she? In the woods – outside the city?
We were at war, the Loyalists against the Rebels. My family were Loyalists, and the British were supposed to protect us, but they had seized homes and churches for barracks and horses.
This afternoon it started to snow. We already know this – you’ve mentioned snowflakes. Condense this information so it’s not repetitive. There were farms in this part of New Jersey, and I’d walked too far. When I reached the town, seeing the taverns and shops, I walked home. We lived right in town. After I opened the front door, I called out. Mother came towards me and then stood still. This text is a bit jarring, as it’s purely character actions. Can you smooth it out into a single sentence or so? “Where have you been? I’ve been worried.” She pulled me to her, and I hugged her. “You must be careful,” she said.
Father came towards us. “There is little danger, but there have been a few incidents. Don’t stay out so late. Besides you missed dinner.” This dialogue feels a bit stiff. How does it make the narrator feel? What is their reaction?
Dinner was at 3’clock, and supper was when the sun went down. At today’s supper, our small meal of the day, we ate bread and cheese. Father was a doctor, and he seldom talked about his work. My-six year- old brother John rolled his eyes and jumped off his chair.
“You’re excused,” Mother said with annoyance.
Despite the snow, Doctor Edgar Stuart, a friend of father’s, came to visit us that night. He seemed so serious, as if he had something on his mind. I took his cloak and hat to hang up, and when he handed me his gloves, his hands were shaking. Give us more emotional insight into Sarah’s reaction. How does she feel about the doctor visiting? What does this mean to her?
“Good evening, Miss Sarah,” he said.
“Good evening, Sir.” I performed a courtesy.
“I have something important to talk about tonight, and I hope you’re pleased,” he said.
Jaida’s Notes: I really love the setting of your story – but the dialogue and narrative is a bit stiff. Part of this is because you’re not giving Sarah time to react to the new setting, or give readers insight into her emotional arc. For example, what does it mean (in the big picture of things) that a doctor is visiting their home? Is it a good thing – or does it hint to sickness? As a protagonist, Sarah needs to be giving context, even if it’s just a line or two, to show readers what the implications are.
STEEL MILLS TO SALVATION – Roz Silva – Middle Grade Historical
July 3, 1911–I should have been overjoyed. I had finally done it! But instead, I was tired, hungry, scared and in desperate need of a bath. Looking down at the tattered, baggy clothes covering my sweaty, thin body, I wondered what to do next. I had no money and nowhere to go. Then I remembered Pittsburgh. That’s where Vlade was supposed to be. I’d go there. Slow this pacing down. There’s a lot of information going on! What is the setting? What did the protagonist do that they should be overjoyed about? Who is Vlade?
“What’s the matter, kid? You lost?” a voice behind me said.
I spun around. It was Stevo—from the ship. We need more context here. Who is Stevo? What ship?
I had met him after the first storm but before the second one. The waters had turned rough that day and the ship began to rock up and down and from side to side, like a bobbing cork. Below deck, I quickly felt the change. I tried to steady myself on my bunk, but I was no match for the forces of nature. When a huge wave tilted the ship, I was dumped on the floor. Soon, my stomach was rumbling and I was gasping for air. I had to get out of there—fast. Bumping into others and shoving them out of my way, I climbed up to the main deck, yelling “Move!” in Serbian. And they did.
On deck, along with about fifty other people already there, I grabbed the rail and spilled the contents of my upset stomach into the churning ocean. “Whew,” I said to no one in particular, wiping my mouth with the back of my hand. I felt somewhat relieved, but could hardly stand. With wobbly legs, I returned to my room, staggering the whole way. Day turned into night more than once, but I could not tell the difference. Drifting in an out of consciousness, I had nothing to eat or drink and no one to take care of me. Finally, when I felt better, I sat up. My clothes were soaked with sweat and I was dying for a drink. I needed food too. Slowly, I let myself down off the bunk and climbed the steps leading to the main deck. This is good information but it needs to be organically woven into the narration – not as an aside. Otherwise, it pulls readers out of the story and also causes these opening pages to come across as jarring. Because within the first few paragraphs, you’re already jumping to a different scene and timeline.
Jaida’s Notes: Really great writing style. And I love the energy of the opening sentence. But everything happens to quickly. Slow the pacing down so as to establish character, tone, setting, etc. Otherwise, it’s confusing who the protagonist is, who Vlade is, etc. We need to know these details before we dive into more action with a flashback scene.
Thank you Jaida for sharing your expertise with everyone. It is really appreciated.