Posted by: Kathy Temean | July 1, 2016

Free Fall Friday – June’s First Page Critiques

blog ceclia MLM agentAgent Clelia Gore of Martin Literary Management is June’s Featured Agent and will review four first pages at the end of the month. Check back next Friday to read the four winners.

In the most general terms, she represents:

  • Picture books, including baby books (both from authors and author-illustrators)
  • Middle grade fiction and nonfiction, including early readers and chapter books
  • Young adult fiction and nonfiction

Clelia has a bachelor’s degree in English literature from Boston College. She received her J.D. from American University, Washington College of Law and practiced law as a corporate litigator in New York City.

Below are the four First Pages that CLELIA Critiqued:

Under the Fig Tree by Cecile Mazzucco-Than, YA historical novel

The floor trembled under Frankie’s resoled saddle shoes, a shiver at first, then a high-fever shudder that traveled up her legs, wobbled her knees, and swayed her hips.[CG1]I like the motion in this first line! Frankie threw open the window, rested her forearms on the sill, and leaned out a nose-length over the fire escape. In seconds, the Third Avenue Elevated would come roaring by rattling the eight drinking glasses in the cupboard until they clinked with mercy. She gathered saliva at the tip of her tongue behind her pursed lips. No more Miss Nice Girl. She was going to tell the engineer exactly what she thought of a train that reduced her whole apartment building to pudding [CG2]I like the purpose and wording of this sentence but I think this metaphor is off bc pudding implies something soft and mushy, and I think the metaphor should have to do more with shakiness, rattling.  umpteen times every day. She knew that if she screamed at the exact second the train passed her window, the force would rip her voice right out of her throat and throw it past 175th Street—but what would happen if she spit? That would show him! [CG3]I like this voice a lot! You’ve already shown this gal has spunk. Ever since [CG4]This like a little incongruous with the “but what would happen if she spit?” bc that implies she had never thought it before – yet she’d been talking to her friend about it since first grade. first grade, she’d told her best friend Sophie Goodman she could probably hit the engineer right in the eye without even aiming. Sophie insisted that the spit would whip back into her own eye.

“Francesca!” her mother scolded.

The first cars flew by, hurling a blast of stinging dust at Frankie and pushing her into the kitchen. She wiped the spit dribbling down [CG5]So she didn’t get to spit? her chin. The thundering of metal pounding against metal crushed the rest of the sentence. Frankie’s mother slammed the window shut and pulled the flour -sack [CG6]Good detail curtains across it. No problem. Frankie could try again in less than half an hour.

“No, Mama,” her brother wailed. “I want to wave at the train, too, like Frankie.”

He left the Spaldeen Frankie had bought for his sisters to play stickball, waddled over to the kitchen table, and tugged at the leg of a chair. Frankie caught the back of it and pulled it over to the window.

“Remember, Beppe,” Frankie lectured as she tugged at the waist of her brother’s pants to help him climb on to the seat. “Only watch the trains with the window closed.”

Clelia’s Notes:

A great start! I really like this opening because it shows a lot about the character, her family and where she lived without saying it outwardly. Very nicely done. Just a few details to tighten up, and I think this is a great first page. Is this is NYC? Perhaps make that more obvious?


 
BECOMING EZRA JACK KEATS: A WINDING PATHWAY

Virginia McGee Butler Middle Grade Nonfiction

Questions

Questions startled Ezra Jack Keats awake. It was four AM. Still dark outside. He’d had reached an exciting point in writing his autobiography. The early chapters about things he couldn’t remember had been hard. The memories from his childhood  were scarce.[CG1]Or something like this to use as a transition. He had pieced them together from stories told at in family gatherings, some parts came from overheard conversations, or from eavesdropping on his parents’ arguments. But last night, when he‘d written wrote about discovering the library when he was in junior high school., He he remembered every detail.

He woke up wondering. “Would the library still be there? Would it still have the same houses and trees around it? Would it still have those [CG2]I like how you use these questions to also give a physical description to the reader—I think you can go further with this part. special steps inside leading to the art books?”

He waited. Daylight came slowly. He waited some more. Finally, he decided he‘d had waited long enough and walked up the familiar [CG3]So he lives near this library but hadn’t been there in years? This part needs some more context either here, on in the beginning.  street. There it was – the Arlington branch of the Brooklyn Public Library Arlington Branch! There were the trees and houses. He walked up the steps [CG4]The art steps? If not, one of these references to steps has to change not to be confusing., but he was too early. The library was locked. He banged on the door. Someone inside motioned to him and mouthed, “We’re closed .”[CG5]Because it’s too early? “We’re not open yet.” Would make this more clear. If it’s bc they are not open on that day – make that clear to. Maybe he points to a sign that says the days its closed.

What was Jack to do? But Hhe needed answers. So much in his life had changed, but Wwould his boyhood library be the same? Would they still have his old beloved art books? Better yet, would his own books be there?

Clelia’s Notes:

I really like historical fiction that is well-researched. Sprinkling a little more description and factual detail will be a nice addition to this piece. I think this is a good start and I like the idea of starting the book with this moment, where he is weighed down by questions. I think you need to build more context within the beginning to help readers feel a more heightened sense of sympathy and understanding for Ezra. That means shedding a little more life on his geographic location, where he is in life, perhaps his accomplishments, etc. These things could be done in just a few words, but go a long way in making the writing tighter and also hooking the reader in. Any clues or hints you can give about Ezra’s personality or experiences that will help the reader understand WHY seeing this library is so important to him, and why it’s keeping him up at night would be great.


 
Nightingale Dreams by Britt Michaelian YA Thriller

Sunday

In our house, we pretend we don‘t  pretend.[CG1]Great first line. Tonight, my mom made dinner the way she does every night—Ffreshly nuked. Microwavable organic food prepared by her very own personal [CG2]So someone else prepares the food? Or is this referring to the microwave? A little unclear bc you say she made it, and then you say that mom pays someone. chef. Heated in Tupperware bowls. Served as if mom slaved over it for hours. She pays someone to prepare a dinner that fills our bodies with toxins and formerly nutritious, plasticized food. In turn, Dad and I lie in full compliance, telling her what a great dinner she made.

Setting the table is my chore. Without fail, every night I get something a detail [CG3]To imply that the fault lies not with her, but how her mother views it. wrong. It’s never intentional, but I’m just not perfect like her. Napkins under the fork on the left. Knife to the right of each plate. Nothing can be askew because in her mind, she’s the modern day Betty Crocker and God forbid I call her what she is—lazy. If I said that out loud, I’d be slapped by a shrink .[CG4]I don’t know about this line, bc a shrink is supposed to hear your gripes and not judge in this way.

Irony [CG5]I think use of “irony” here is misplaced arrives more often than not around here.

Other things arrive too, sometimes the unexplainable. [CG6]This part is a little bit confusingly worded here. I think you need another line explaining that she sensed something had arrived despite no doorbell, no knock. No doorbell rang. No one knocked. I would no doubt face the wrath of my mom if I chose to drift away from the dinner she slaved over. But I couldn’t help myself. A nagging thought echoed in my brain, check the front door.

It swung opened with a creek and I stepped outside. My mom’s voice screamed my name in the background. Sitting before me was a beautiful bird , on a bed of moss to the side of the walkway. Tilted over as if its head was on a pillow. Sleeping. It’s shiny black eye open wide. This bird [CG7]More physical description since it’s such a heightened moment.was exceptional. Perfect. Glowing as it sweetly sat. Purely blessed. [CG8]Description here feels a little overwrought.

Naturally, I felt the need to pick it up. Put it in a cage. Keep it as a pet. Wouldn’t you? Cute [CG9]This bird was more than cute based on your description! Cute doesn’t seem like the apt word – feels more viscerally compelling. birds make great pets. After all, it somehow chose me to open the front door and find it. We were like soul mates. There was one small problem. It was dead. But I wanted to keep it anyway. What could be more perfect ?[CG10]Maybe: “I looked at it as a positive.” No poop to clean and no need for a cage.

Clelia’s Notes:

An intriguing first page! A lot going on here – strong voice, a hated mother, a strange occurrence, and a strange response (and I mean strange in a good way!). I like the magical realism elements here a lot and it makes me want to read more. I do think you should focus on the exactitude of your writing – make sure what you are saying reflects your exact intention. The reader can only pull the meaning of the words you put on paper, and can’t infer your meaning if the words aren’t more deliberate. Altogether, a good start and just needs some close revision.


 
Fred Lebow and the New York City Marathon  by Amalia Hoffman Picture Book

Ready, set—boom! (Italicize sounds) signaled the firing pistol. Helicopters buzzed above the Verazzano Narrows Bridge. Balloons hovered over Staten Island. Loudspeakers announced [CG1]These are all things that are happening above and around the runners – what about on the ground? The runners themselves. Set that scene a bit more. instructions in different languages and Fred Lebow watched his marathoners spring into action.

As he sped in a van ahead of the runners, the race director felt like a parent, overcome with pride. This was his race, the first New York City’s five boroughs marathon.[CG2]Not every kid will know what a marathon is so start simple – a 26.2 mile race.

Fred fell in love with running when his tennis couch suggested that he take up jogging to increase his energy. He joined the New York Road Runners Club and trained to build up his mileage.[CG3]A concept that little kids won’t be familiar with – have to explain it more simply.

Running with his buddies, he remembered the times when he didn’t run for fun, he ran for his life. Soldiers invaded his village in Romania and Jewish people were in great danger. Since they couldn’t flee together, the family had to split up. Fred was fifteen when he escaped with his older brother.[CG4]This feels like its own book! Feels too major to just gloss over it like this. I wonder if you could make this a bigger element of the book? Relating his past and his future in a more overt way – perhaps using parallelism?

For four years, they wandered from country to country until they made it to America.

Fred loved New York City. Running around the reservoir in Central Ppark, he felt “Llike a horse that’s been kept on a stall for a year and then, finally let free.

In his tiny walk-up apartment, he kept piles of the New York Road Runners Club’s newsletters. He stuffed his closets with the club’s T-shirts and held member meetings around his kitchen table.

In 1972, the members voted Fred as the club’s president. Fred still remembered the time when he couldn’t even join a club just because he was Jewish. Now he wanted to make sure that everyone could join! On weekends, he handed out the club’s flyers to New Yorkers in Central Park. ”In running,” he told them, “it doesn’t matter whether you come in first, middle or last. Marathoning is the only sport where the average person can compete with the champions.”

Folks who never ran before joined in.

Clelia’s Notes:

I like that you start in the future here, during such an action packed moment, but I think the concept of marathoning is a little out of the age-range of readers—it’s not something many 4-8 year olds are going to be familiar with, or be able to care about that deeply. To make it more kid-friendly and planted in a world/in terms they understand, I think you have to think more about your target audience and give as much context and explanation as a reader with little background knowledge would need. I would try and frame the story in a way they can relate to. I think using Fred’ story from his childhood is a great way to do that – there is a compelling story there, that takes place when he is young (closer in age to readers) and the run for his life/run for passion story lines can likely result in some great parallelism.


 
Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


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