Posted by: Kathy Temean | September 30, 2016

Free Fall Friday – First Page Results

AndreaCascardi72bwAndrea Cascardi agent with Transatlantic Literary Agency has held senior editorial positions at Random House and Disney Publishing, and was an agent with Transatlantic for ten years before returning to the Publisher role at Egmont USA.

Click here for Likes and Dislikes.

Here are the four first pages chosen this month:

Cloverleaf  by Carol Murray – MG Novel

“Hey, Gramps, look at this! I got my poem published in Horse Crazy.”

“Well, congratulations, cowgirl, you’re getting pretty durn famous. First you win the

poetry contest in the Pretty Prairie Gazette, and now you’re getting published in a real honest-

to-goodness library book. Nice to get to know you, Miss Angela Pinkerton.”

“Same here, Gramps.”

“Did you get any cash this time?”

“Another hundred bucks,” Angie said, breaking into a smile as wide as the Kansas sky.

“I think I’ll get a new pair of chaps, or maybe I’ll buy you a Stetson so you’ll look jazzy at the

State Fair in September. Thanks, Gramps. Sometimes I forget to tell you.”

“Aw, Angie, everything I do for you makes me feel good. You’ve made my life complete,

my girl. I lost my heart when your grandma died, but you’re helpin’ me find it again. That’s a

humdinger of a poem! Read it for me will you, Hon?”

“Sure, Gramps. Here goes:

                         Just Wishin’

I’d find myself a pony if I could have my way,

Black or white or spotted, palomino, roan or gray.

With snip or blaze or socks of white,

a chestnut, sorrel, bay,

I wish I had a pony. I would love him every day.”

(by Angela Pinkerton, 4th grade)

“Well, you got your wish all right. That was almost two years ago, and after your poem

made the paper, Sticky Gumm and me went on a horse-hunting expedition.”

“And that’s when we got Lucky!”

”Yep, that was the big day. I’ll  never forget it.”

HERE’S ANDREA:

Cloverleaf by Carol Murray – MG

The warmth of this grandfather/granddaughter relationship emanates from this first page. But there seems to be a lot of backstory crammed in, and I wonder if there is a more exciting opening for the novel, something that perhaps happens after this. What I take away is that Angie and her grandfather share a love of horses and that since grandma’s death, their relationship has grown stronger. But what it doesn’t tell the reader is what is this story going to be about, and what kind of story it’s going to be.

This feels like a little info dump. Is there a more natural way for this information to be woven in without Gramps retelling something Angie already knows about? Using dialogue to tell much of the story is great but like any tool, it has its limitations. When dialogue is used to convey information for the reader, it can feel unnatural.

“And that’s when we got Lucky!”

”Yep, that was the big day. I’ll  never forget it.”

Angie seems like a cheerful, positive kid, but remember no one is cheerful and positive all the time. Obviously this is just a short piece from the novel but it makes me wonder. What will she struggle with? What does she want and what are the obstacles in her way? Those struggles and how she handles them will give her depth and make her someone readers will care about. The earlier you prepare the reader for the undercurrents the more compelling the read will become.

_______________________________________________________________________________________

Beela and Red Jump a Rope / Jennifer Reinharz / Picture Book

After the street was closed and banner strung, Beela and Red went outside to play.

“Look at all this jumping space,” Red announced. “Hey, where’s your rope?”

“It broke, remember?” Beela said. “Want to share?”

“Well, my Poppie bought this for me. Okay. But I go first.” {Red skips rope and sings}

“Today is the block party. Yippie Yippie Yee! Bouncy castles, hamburgers, cotton candy. Freeze dance, sprinklers, stay up late. Comes once a year-we can’t wait!”

“Songs over. My turn.” Beela grabbed for the rope.

“I just started.”

“Did not,” she grumbled.

“Stop!”

“Not fair!”

Yank. Tug. Pop. Red fell back. The handle flew off. The rope began to fray.

“Oh! You alright?” Beela helped her neighbor up.

Red dusted her derriere. “Ugh. We broke another one. Now what?”

Beela shrugged. “Practice handstands?”

“Too scary.”

“Mix mud pies?”

“Too messy. I still feel like jumping.”

“Me too,” Beela said. “Hmm…Wait here.”

She marched inside, climbed the stairs to her grandmother’s room and flung open the armoire. Arranged on hangers was a sea of head scarves.

Beela ran her fingers through the fabric like she did every morning while Citoo framed her own face in color, sparkle or pattern.

HERE’S ANDREA:

Beela and Red Jump a Rope / Jennifer Reinharz / Picture Book

A block party is such an interesting backdrop for a story, one that is ubiquitous to all kinds of neighborhoods yet not one I’ve seen in a picture

book. But we don’t know it’s a block party until 5 lines down, so I suggest moving right up to the opening.

After the street was closed and banner strung, Beela and Red went outside to play.

“Look at all this jumping space,” Red announced. “Hey, where’s your rope?”

“It broke, remember?” Beela said. “Want to share?”

“Well, my Poppie bought this for me. Okay. But I go first.” {Red skips rope and sings}

“Today is the block party. Yippie Yippie Yee! Bouncy castles, hamburgers, cotton candy. Freeze dance, sprinklers, stay up late. Comes once a year-we can’t wait!”

“Songs over. My turn.” Beela grabbed for the rope. It’s hard to write two main characters. We aren’t sure if we are to root for one of them. The

bickering doesn’t make either of them more appealing. I would suggest cutting it and getting to the heart of the story sooner.

“I just started.”

“Did not,” she grumbled.

“Stop!”

“Not fair!”

Yank. Tug. Pop. Red fell back. The handle flew off. The rope began to fray.

“Oh! You alright?” Beela helped her neighbor up.

Red dusted her derriere. “Ugh. We broke another one. Now what?”

Beela shrugged. “Practice handstands?”

“Too scary.”

“Mix mud pies?”

“Too messy. I still feel like jumping.”

“Me too,” Beela said. “Hmm…Wait here.”

She marched inside, climbed the stairs to her grandmother’s room and flung open the armoire. The language seems to get more sophisticated here. Sentences are longer, words are more difficult. It feels a bit jarring, and reads more like a novel than picture book. Arranged on hangers was a sea of head scarves. Beela ran her fingers through the fabric like she did every morning while Citoo framed her own face in color, sparkle or pattern. Very interesting! The story seems to be taking a new turn. Perhaps it’s not about a block party at all. My advice is to really hone in on what is the core of the story and rework it so that is always front and center for the reader. In a picture book, every word counts, so cut what isn’t necessary to move the action forward. You have some interesting threads that I hope will come together organically.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________

COULD I EVER FORGIVE?  Bebe Willoughby  by Young adult

            Could I ever forgive myself? I stood on the dune, the sea grass blowing around my knees, thinking of Leigh. It seemed impossible to forget what I’d done.

            Our beautiful New England town was once a whaling town, but now it was a resort. In the summer the gardens were filled with pink roses and sunflowers, and most of the Captain’s homes were owned by summer people. In various ways it was good, but in other ways it was ruined. I turned toward the road and saw a hummer coming down the street with New York plates. The warmth of summer had nearly left, and we’d headed  into fall.   I turned away from the ocean.

            It was just this year my senior year, that I met Leigh. She stood in a corner on the first day of school before the bell rang. She was an awesome creature with dark hair that went down her back. I used to be shy but boldness took hold of me when I became a cheerleader. I was drawn to Leigh, and when I stood in front of her I spoke. “Want to have lunch?”

She looked past me. Then she said: “I can’t.”

At lunch Valerie asked why I spoke to the new girl. “You must sit with the cheerleaders,” Valerie said. “You’re part of us.”

The good looking boys wearing leather jackets stared but didn’t talk to us.  Valerie and Amanda had boyfriends, and I did too up until June. Then Steve Collins broke up with me. They laughed and joked with me about who’d be my next boyfriend. But I knew it wouldn’t be like that. As I looked at the boys an ache began in my chest. It would be a long time before anyone appealed to me as much as Steve.

HERE IS ANDREA:

COULD I EVER FORGIVE?   by Bebe Willoughby  Young Adult

Could I ever forgive myself? I stood on the dune, the sea grass blowing around my knees, thinking of Leigh. It seemed impossible to forget what I’d done. Very compelling opening. Definitely caught my attention and made me want to read more.

Our beautiful New England town was once a whaling town, but now it was a resort. In the summer the gardens were filled with pink roses and sunflowers, and most of the Captain’s homes were owned by summer people. In various ways it was good, but in other ways it was ruined. I turned toward the road and saw a hummer coming down the street with New York plates. The warmth of summer had nearly left, and we’d headed  into fall.   I turned away from the ocean. The opening was so strong and I think developing those thoughts to keep the reader hooked rather than breaking to give us a physical description of the town would lead from strength to strength.

It was just this year my senior year, that I met Leigh. She stood in a corner on the first day of school before the bell rang. She was an awesome creature with dark hair that went down her back. I used to be shy but boldness took hold of me when I became a cheerleader. Whenever possible, show rather than tell. You show us she’s bold, and if she doesn’t consider herself to be shy any longer, this feels like an irrelevant “tell” that could be cut. I was drawn to Leigh, and when I stood in front of her I spoke. “Want to have lunch?”

She looked past me. Then she said: “I can’t.” It feels like a missed opportunity not to follow up Leigh’s rejection with some observation, feeling, or remark from the narrator. Is she surprised, embarrassed, more intrigued, angry? Show us with how she responds. Especially since we have a hint that this relationship goes bad eventually, their initial meeting should play into that.

At lunch Valerie asked why I spoke to the new girl. “You must sit with the cheerleaders,” Valerie said. “You’re part of us.”

The good looking boys wearing leather jackets stared but didn’t talk to us.  Valerie and Amanda had boyfriends, and I did too up until June. Then Steve Collins broke up with me. They laughed and joked with me about who’d be my next boyfriend. But I knew it wouldn’t be like that. As I looked at the boys an ache began in my chest. Strong emotion, very simply and effectively communicated. It would be a long time before anyone appealed to me as much as Steve.

There is clearly an undercurrent of strong emotion here. From the opening paragraph to the final one here, we see a picture of a girl in transition, and perhaps not on as solid ground as she wants to appear to her classmates. More details would flesh this out. She doesn’t give her name to Leigh so we don’t know it yet, either. Where are she and Valerie speaking? It feels like a vacuum but it’s more likely a hectic cafeteria—or maybe they don’t even eat lunch in school? If the reader has too many questions, it breaks the story’s spell. Set the scene for with a few simple, key details, but still keep us in the moment. Great start!

_____________________________________________________________________________________________

MY SOMETHING AMAZING by Karen Mullane, MG

The palomino horse appeared first. Creeping through the woods, I held my breath and tried not to make noise. Snow flurries swirled around me while I picked my way carefully over the cold ground. I stepped over a fallen tree and wound my way around a puddle that was just turning to ice.

As I got near the paddock fence, sticks crunched under my feet making him swing his head in my direction. I stopped in my tracks.

My face felt frozen, but sweat still broke out on my forehead. I rode horses in my dreams almost every night but this one was real. His ears tipped forward and he looked right at me, as though asking, “Who are you?”

I know he’s a palomino now, but at the time I just saw a golden horse with a white mane and tail. His color stood out so beautifully through the bare winter trees. He wandered over to the fence. I gently put my fingers out to touch his velvety nose and his warm breath hung over my hand.

With my heart pounding, I answered him, “I’m Evie, what’s your name?”

Ever since I spied the palomino, I begged my parents for a horse. For about a year, I had been obsessed with horses for whatever reason. I guess they just sparked a little corner of my mind. They seemed like they were left over from a time when things were more magical. Like if I had a horse, I could ride away into a more exciting story.

I didn’t really care about the practical side, but my parents did. My dad said that we didn’t really have the room. He started explaining zoning and stuff. Not much magic in that.

HERE’S ANDREA:

MY SOMETHING AMAZING by Karen Mullane, Middle Grade

The palomino horse appeared first. “First” implies other horses—or perhaps people—will follow. If that’s not the case, this gives the wrong impression of what is to come. Creeping through the woods, I held my breath and tried not to make noise. Snow flurries swirled around me while I picked my way carefully over the cold ground. I stepped over a fallen tree and wound my way around a puddle that was just turning to ice. Intriguing opening with just enough detail to ground the story but not so much that it bogs the story down. Very tactile, too.

As I got near the paddock fence, sticks crunched under my feet making him swing his head in my direction. I stopped in my tracks.

My face felt frozen, but sweat still broke out on my forehead. I rode horses in my dreams almost every night but this one was real. His ears tipped forward and he looked right at me, as though asking, “Who are you?”

I know he’s a palomino now, but at the time I just saw a golden horse with a white mane and tail. It’s disconcerting to belatedly discover that the opening scene is a flashback. It throws the reader’s assumption off, but not in a positive way. And since you continue on as if it’s still the present, it’s even more jarring. Maybe that info can come later, once the scene is finished. His color stood out so beautifully through the bare winter trees. He wandered over to the fence. I gently put my fingers out to touch his velvety nose and his warm breath hung over my hand.

With my heart pounding, I answered him, “I’m Evie, what’s your name?”

Ever since I spied the palomino, I begged my parents for a horse. For about a year, I had been obsessed with horses for whatever reason. Your job as an author is to convince us that Evie has a compelling desire for this horse. She sounds only vaguely interested. I guess they just sparked a little corner of my mind. They seemed like they were left over from a time when things were more magical. Like if I had a horse, I could ride away into a more exciting story.

I didn’t really care about the practical side, but my parents did. My dad said that we didn’t really have the room. He started explaining zoning and stuff. Not much magic in that.

Shifting time from the past moment to the present isn’t always easy, but find a way to let us know what’s going on so the reader doesn’t have to come out of the moment to figure it out. Evie’s desire for a horse sounds weak. Her “for whatever reason” isn’t enough to convince her parents or the reader. If Evie doesn’t care enough, we won’t care enough. This is an engaging start and can be even more compelling.

Thank you Andrea for sharing your time and expertise with us. Keep in touch.

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


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