Posted by: Kathy Temean | January 27, 2017

Free Fall Friday – January First Page Results

christa-hesche

CHRISTA HESCHKE at McINTOSH & OTIS is our Featured Agent for January and has read and critiqued four first pages that were submitted.

Christa Heschke graduated from Binghamton University with a major in English and a minor in Anthropology. She started in publishing as an intern at both Writers House and Sterling Lord Literistic, where she fell in love with the agency side of publishing. Christa has been at McIntosh and Otis, Inc. in the Children’s Literature Department since 2009 where she is actively acquiring for all age groups in children’s.

For YA, she is especially interested in contemporary, thriller/mystery, and horror. She looks for a compelling voice and a strong hook that will set a YA novel apart in the flooded market. She is open to all types of middle grade and especially enjoys adventure, mystery, and magical realism. For both YA and MG, she is interested in unique settings and cultural influences, interesting structure, complicated romances, diverse characters, sister or friendship-centric stories, and stories that feature artists of any kind. In picture books she is drawn to cute, funny stories (as opposed to sweet and quiet) that will grab kids as well as the occasional nonfiction biography on a subject whose story has yet to be told.

Christa is not looking for any Adult fiction or non-fiction, paranormal or dystopian at this time.

CHRISTA CRITIQUE COLOR KEY:
Christa’s comments in red
Blue text is what Christa was commenting about.
Black text is the authors original text.

THE WEIGHT OF THE UNIVERSE – YA contemporary – Teresa Robeson

Perched on the bedroom window ledge of my new home, and feeling trapped in that uncomfortable space between inside and out, between what had been and what will be, I leaned my forehead against the unyielding glass. The brightest star outside was, of course, Altair, winking at me as though I were in on a cosmic joke. But, the joke was on me. The sky was the same here in nowhere, Midwest, as in San Francisco, but absolutely nothing else was.

Altair winked again. Dad had told me the first time he let me peer through a telescope that when we looked at the universe, we were looking back in time. That photon-loaded wink left the star almost 17 years ago, back when my family was still whole. I didn’t want to just look back at the past; I wanted to return there.

My breathing tripped over itself. I closed my eyes and I was five years old again, bundled in my favorite fuzzy pink hoodie against the brisk air of a December night in southern California. We’d driven out to Point Reyes, away from the city lights. The sky glittered with what seemed like a million stars, but I didn’t know for sure as I could only count up to a hundred then. Dad, with his warm, piney aftershave scent, held me steady in his arms so I wouldn’t knock over the telescope, a five-inch refractor he’d bought in his teens with money earned running errands. I wanted to think that I was as precious to him as that instrument, but he only took one of us with him after the divorce, and it wasn’t me.

He’d trained the scope on the Orion Nebula. I scrunched my nose and bobbed my head a bit until I could finally see through the eyepiece.

“It may not seem like much,” Dad had said. “But when you look at it, Gah Wing, you are looking far back into the past.” He used to call me by my Chinese name when Mom wasn’t with us. It was our own special secret.

HERE’S CHRISTA:

Teresa Robeson – THE WEIGHT OF THE UNIVERSE – YA contemporary 

Perched on the bedroom window ledge of my new home, and feeling trapped in that uncomfortable space between inside and out, between what had been and what will be, I leaned my forehead against the unyielding glass.  [CH1]Don’t underestimate the importance of a powerful first line to hook you reader. This one is a bit long and as I don’t your main character yet I’m really not feeling her pain here.  Think about where the action and story really starts. Many stories start with a character moving. How can you make this stand out more? The brightest star outside was, of course, Altair, winking at me as though I were in on a cosmic joke. But, the joke was on me. The sky was the same here in nowhere, Midwest, as in San Francisco, but absolutely nothing else was.

Altair winked again. Dad had told me the first time he let me peer through a telescope that when we looked at the universe, we were looking back in time.   [CH2]This is an intriguing line. Maybe play with this one a bit and make it your first line.  I like the star/astronomy angle. That photon-loaded wink left the star almost 17 years ago, back when my family was still whole. I didn’t want to just look back at the past; I wanted to return there.  [CH3]Explain more. Not everyone knows this about stars. 

My breathing tripped over itself. I closed my eyes and I was five years old again, bundled in my favorite fuzzy pink hoodie against the brisk air of a December night in southern California. We’d driven out to Point Reyes, away from the city lights. The sky glittered with what seemed like a million stars, but I didn’t know for sure as I could only count up to a hundred then. Dad, with his warm, piney aftershave scent, held me steady in his arms so I wouldn’t knock over the telescope, a five-inch refractor he’d bought in his teens with money earned running errands. I wanted to think that I was as precious to him as that instrument, but he only took one of us with him after the divorce, and it wasn’t me.

He’d trained the scope on the Orion Nebula. I scrunched my nose and bobbed my head a bit until I could finally see through the eyepiece.  

[CH4]Maybe too soon for a flashback on page 1. It interrupts the forward momentum. Set up your character a bit and who she is. There’s a bit too much focus on angst here and longing for the past. Give some details about her. She likes stars. What else?

“It may not seem like much,” Dad had said. “But when you look at it, Gah Wing, you are looking far back into the past.” He used to call me by my Chinese name when Mom wasn’t with us. It was our own special secret.

_________________________________________________________________

Linda Bozzo – TYRANNOSAURUS CHORUS – Picture Book

When your principal says, “Impress me” she probably doesn’t mean

by acing your spelling test

or by returning your library books on time.

She probably means . . . bring your tyrannosaurus to school to sing!

Now THAT would impress your principal! WOW! How could it not?

She came to school dressed as a dinosaur once and

she loves to sing the morning announcements.

WHY DO YOU WANT TO IMPRESS YOUR PRINCIPAL?

  1. So you can be her secretary for an hour.
  2. So she’ll let you borrow her chair for the day.
  3. So she’ll turn the playground into a water park.

(You would REALLY have to impress her to get number 3!)

You’ll want to make sure your tyrannosaurus doesn’t drop his sheet music. [carved in stone]

Everyone loves listening to the “oldies.” [Crustacious Period]

You’ll need to help your tyrannosaurus warm up his voice. “Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti  ROAAAR!

Next, you’ll open the stage curtain expecting to reveal a floor-shaking, wall-quaking, VOLCANIC ERUPTION!

Instead . . . the room is so quiet you can hear a dinosaur egg drop. KER-PLOP!

That’s when it hits you like a fossil . . . this carnivore hasn’t performed in AGES!

He has bone-crushing stage fright. You’ll notice your principal starting to sweat. Her face will grow pale. Her job is about to become extinct.

You’ll be tempted to yank the plug on the lights and scream, “TSUNAMI!”

HERE’S CHRISTA:

Linda Bozzo – TYRANNOSAURUS CHORUS – Picture Book

When your principal says, “Impress me” she probably doesn’t mean by acing your spelling test

or by returning your library books on time.

She probably means . . . bring your tyrannosaurus to school to sing! 

[CH1]Why? Seems a little out of left field.  You describe why the narrator wants to impress her, but there’s no set-up.

Now THAT would impress your principal! WOW! How could it not?

She came to school dressed as a dinosaur once and

she loves to sing the morning announcements. 

[CH2Maybe start with this. You could say something like “How do you impress your principal?” or “Impressing your principal isn’t easy but it has it’s perks.” Maybe bounce a few ideas back and forth before your narrator decides on the dinosaur chorus.

WHY DO YOU WANT TO IMPRESS YOUR PRINCIPAL?

  1. So you can be her secretary for an hour.
  2. So she’ll let you borrow her chair for the day.
  3. So she’ll turn the playground into a water park.

[CH3]The first 2 don’t seem all that exciting. Maybe them a little more fun.

(You would REALLY have to impress her to get number 3!)

You’ll want to make sure your tyrannosaurus doesn’t drop his sheet music. [carved in stone] 

Everyone loves listening to the “oldies.” [Crustacious Period]

You’ll need to help your tyrannosaurus warm up his voice. “Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti  ROAAAR!” 

Next, you’ll open the stage curtain expecting to reveal a floor-shaking, wall-quaking,  [CH4]Or perhaps instead of this being about impressing the principal it’s simply about how cool it’d be to have a dinosaur chorus and how to make it work as show here. One of the perks can be impressing the principal etc. etc. This is where the story started grabbing my attention. 

VOLCANIC ERUPTION! [CH5]Nice!

Instead . . . the room is so quiet you can hear a dinosaur egg drop. KER-PLOP!  

That’s when it hits you like a fossil . . . this carnivore hasn’t performed in AGES!

He has bone-crushing stage fright. You’ll notice your principal starting to sweat. Her face will grow pale. Her job is about to become extinct.

You’ll be tempted to yank the plug on the lights and scream, “TSUNAMI!” 

[CH6]Love all the fun dinosaur references.  Nice sense of tension too.

_________________________________________________________________

Kirsten Bock – Millie’s Formula for Friend – Picture Book

Millie adored math. She loved sharp-edged sevens and fat bellied zeros.

She loved numerals strung together like train cars.

She loved how every problem had a perfectly balanced solution.

But sometimes…Sometimes Millie didn’t feel very balanced at all.

[ART: Millie sitting on one end of teeter totter all alone]

Millie needed a friend.

Millie opened her notebook and slipped on her pencil grip.

[ART: She sits down next to Callie who is writing in her own notebook]

She scanned the playground. What was the formula for friendship?

“That’s it!” said Millie. “If I make someone laugh, they will be my friend!”

MILLIE + HUMOR = FRIEND

Millie researched and reviewed, then she marched to the group.

“Why was 6 afraid of 7? Because 7, 8, 9! Get it? Seven ate nine! Although… numbers don’t really eat, since they aren’t alive. Except I have a pet millipede named Million. His name is a number and he eats all the time… Hello?”

MILLIE + HUMOR ≠ FRIEND

[ART: Callie uses Millie’s joke books to try to balance herself on the teeter totter]

Millie got back to work. [ART: Millie sees friends playing kickball]

“Brilliant!” said Millie. “If I kick a homerun, I will make a friend!”

MILLIE + SPEED = FRIEND

Millie couldn’t wait to test her new equation.

She estimated the distance and lined up her shot.

HERE’S CHRISTA:

Kirsten Bock – Millie’s Formula for Friend – Picture Book

Millie adored math. She loved sharp-edged sevens and fat bellied zeros.

She loved numerals strung together like train cars.

She loved how every problem had a perfectly balanced solution.

But sometimes…Sometimes Millie didn’t feel very balanced at all.

[ART: Millie sitting on one end of teeter totter all alone] [CH1]Only use art notes when necessary. There will be illustrations. Generally, you’ll only use art notes when what is happening in the text is different from the illustrations or if you’re not seeing what is happening from the text. Don’t use for descriptions or setting the scene unless it’s vital to the story. You have to trust the illustrator.

Millie needed a friend.

[ART: She sits down next to Callie who is writing in her own notebook] 

[CH2]Good use of an art note as we don’t see what Callie is doing from the text as Millie doesn’t notice her I assume. Who is Callie? She’s not introduced.

Millie opened her notebook and slipped on her pencil grip.

She scanned the playground.  [CH3]Remember, there will be illustration so things that can be shown there generally don’t need to be in the text.

What was the formula for friendship?

“That’s it!” said Millie. “If I make someone laugh, they will be my friend!”

MILLIE + HUMOR = FRIEND

Millie researched and reviewed, then she marched to the group.[CH4]Group of who?

“Why was 6 afraid of 7? Because 7, 8, 9! Get it? Seven ate nine! Although… numbers don’t really eat, since they aren’t alive. Except I have a pet millipede named Million. His name is a number and he eats all the time… Hello?” [CH5]Too much dialogue here. Trim.

MILLIE + HUMOR ≠ FRIEND [CH6]I like these. They add some character and bring out the math angle. Millie is an intriguing character!

[ART: Callie uses Millie’s joke books to try to balance herself on the teeter totter]

Millie got back to work. [ART: Millie sees friends playing kickball]   [CH7]Put this in the text.   

“Brilliant!” said Millie. “If I kick a homerun, I will make a friend!”

MILLIE + SPEED = FRIEND

Millie couldn’t wait to test her new equation.

She estimated the distance and lined up her shot.

_________________________________________________________

Sally Spratt – Shadow Monsters – Middle Grade

My legs shake as I try to stand. A wave of cold sweeps over me as the monster screams again, so close it rattles the iron gates. I peer around the corner of the Wall and watch it lumber back and forth. It stops, turns toward me, it’s yellow eyes seem to pierce me with cold.  The monster flings its head back and wails up at the rising moon.  I feel its eyes on me one last time before it turns and pounds back to the woods, its arms dragging behind digging furrows in the earth. I stand motionless, not even daring to breathe,  as I watch the silhouette of the monster until it melts back into the darkness.

I must hurry. My family, they’ll be worried, anxious to know if this time I will return.  Last time I’d been gone too long, my brother Sam had been with me.  But, he never came home. Only I did.  Now Sam is at the bottom of the lake, along with a piece of me.  I reach in my pocket for the comfort of Sam’s knife. Instead, my fingers find only coarse fabric and a hole big enough for the knife to slip through. It’s gone, the knife, the only thing I had of Sam.

Voices of the watchers near. I shrink back into a crevice of the Wall and pull my sleeve down, covering the white skin of my knotted stump of where my hand used to be. I hold my breath hoping they won’t hear the pounding of my heart.  No one can know it was me the Monster chased.

“That was close,” says the larger of the two.

“Too close. Do you think it got someone?” The other asks.

“No, it got close, though.  Close enough to get a taste,” the large one laughed.

Their voices fade as they walk away from me. They cannot know it was me, the one chased, the one the monster calls for. I wait until they are far enough away; I adjust my heavy satchel, full of today’s gathering and head toward home.

HERE’S CHRISTA:

Sally Spratt – Shadow Monsters – Middle-Grade Adventure

My legs shake as I try to stand. A wave of cold sweeps over me as the monster screams again, so close it rattles the iron gates. I peer around the corner of the Wall and watch it lumber back and forth. It stops, turns toward me, it’s yellow eyes seem to pierce me with cold.  The monster flings its head back and wails up at the rising moon.  I feel its eyes on me one last time before it turns and pounds back to the woods, its arms dragging behind digging furrows in the earth. I stand motionless, not even daring to breathe,  as I watch the silhouette of the monster until it melts back into the darkness.    [CH1]I think we need a little bit of set up before a monster is seen growling. I don’t know who this character is yet and I want to care about them being in danger here.

I must hurry. My family, they’ll be worried, anxious to know if this time I will return .   [CH2]I might start with these two lines. They really gripped me and gave me a sense of the character’s situation/life. Last time I’d been gone too long, my brother Sam had been with me.  But, he never came home. Only I did.  Now Sam is at the bottom of the lake, along with a piece of me.  I reach in my pocket for the comfort of Sam’s knife. Instead, my fingers find only coarse fabric and a hole big enough for the knife to slip through. It’s gone, the knife, the only thing I had of Sam. [CH3]Intriguing opening! Good backstory here. Just enough.

Voices of the watchers near. I shrink back into a crevice of the Wall and pull my sleeve down, covering the white skin of my the knotted stump of where my hand used to be. I hold my breath hoping they won’t hear the pounding of my heart.  No one can know it was me the Monster chased.  [CH4]Why?

“That was close,” says the larger of the two.

“Too close. Do you think it got someone?” The other asks.

“No, it got close, though.  Close enough to get a taste,” the large one laughed.

Their voices fade as they walk away from me. They cannot know it was me, the one chased, the one the monster calls for.  [CH5]Repetitive and I still don’t understand why which is causing some confusion. Make sure to give just enough info to prevent confusion. I wait until they are far enough away; I adjust my heavy satchel, full of today’s gathering and head toward home.

_____________________________________________________________

Thank you Christa for sharing your time and expertise with us. It is really appreciated.

Question for everyone: I usually post the text that was sent in and then post again with the agents comments. This time I just posted the text with Christa’s comments. Did you find this acceptable or was it harder to read.

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Responses

  1. I like the color idea. And a round of applause for everyone!

    Like

  2. I am generally a fan of color coding, but this just confused me. Maybe it is too early in the morning? I found it too hard to figure out the original text for reference because it didn’t flow as well broken up with 3 different things going on.

    Like

    • I added the non-critiqued text in for you.

      Like

  3. Thanks so much for posting my story, Kathy, and thanks to Christa for the insightful comments! I’ll be incorporating and revising with those in mind. 🙂 I really enjoyed learning from her comments in the other stories as well!

    As for the new format, I don’t see the red at all. The only blue that I see is in the “[CH]” parts, but not any other text. Still, her comments are easy enough to parse out from the story, so I don’t have a problem with this. If this is easier for you to post, Kathy, I say stick with it. Thanks!

    Like

    • That’s weird. I have no idea why you are not seeing the red, when everyone else can see it. I guess you just have to look for the [CH#] to figure out what Christa had to say or go back and compare it to the submitted text – I just added it in.

      Liked by 1 person

      • It didn’t bother me at all that I couldn’t see the red; I just wanted to let you know that I couldn’t as feedback. 🙂 I can still see her comments; they just appear in black. I’m using the latest version of FireFox for my browser. I could try Safari and see if that makes a difference. Thanks, Kathy!

        Like

  4. Love the new format, Kathy. I appreciate Christa’s insight.

    Like

  5. thanks for sharing these first pages and comments – I always learn something.

    Like

  6. I think the new format worked fine, Kathy. Thanks again for doing this and thanks to Christa for taking the time to participate.

    Like

  7. The new format worked for me! Thank you, Kathy, for posting my first page and thanks to Christa for her helpful comments!

    Like

  8. I like the text and comments together like you’ve done it here. Easier to follow! Thanks, Kathy!

    Like

  9. Thanks so much Christa! I’ve put so much work into this manuscript. It’s inspiring to get such helpful comments from you.

    Like


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