Posted by: Kathy Temean | April 28, 2017

First Page Results – Holly McGhee

Holly M. McGhee still carried MADELINE around in 3rd grade — until Mrs. Carrier, her school librarian, tricked her into reading longer books by giving her one with her name on it, HOLLY IN THE SNOW. After college, Holly headed straight into the book world of New York City, where she has enjoyed being a secretary, an advertising manager, a sales rep (for one month), and in the six years prior to opening the doors at Pippin, an executive editor at HarperCollins. Now, as the President and Creative Director of Pippin she is dedicated to shepherding books that make a difference into the world. Someone once told her, “If you love what you do, you never work a day in your life,” and that has proven true for her.

Holly is interested in literary fiction (middle-grade or YA) and simple picture books that say something we need to hear.

Pippin Properties has the editorial expertise required to help bring each project to its full potential, prior to submission, and they place nearly every project they submit. They are avid caretakers of their clients’ projects, marketing plans, and careers, be it picture books, middle-grade, young adult, graphic, novelty, and adult trade projects.


BABY Kathleen C. Elken – YA

Giving birth to me in a Port Authority toilet bowl was the second best thing my mother ever did for me. The best thing was when she left me there.

“Nobody, not nobody, should be with somebody who don’t love them.” At least that’s what Nell said when she told my story, and she’s the one who found me.

Hitting that cold water? Nell said that must have been like the slap most babies get because I was bawling like a banshee when she opened the stall door. My head was just barely poking up above the brown water line. I couldn’t have looked much prettier than one of those squirrel-sized rats you sometimes see scurrying around the subways, but Nell swore I was the most beautiful thing she ever saw. She didn’t think twice about the urine, the stink, or even the blood when she stuck her hands right in and scooped me out. Then she used a ribbon from the flowers she was carrying to cut my cord and ordered a homeless lady huddled by the door to go get help. Wrapping me up tight in her coat, Nell rocked me back and forth, back and forth, praying someone would believe the homeless woman and not just think she was crazy.

When the transit cops rushed in, they said I was so blue, so cold, I’d never make it.

“Hush!” Nell said to them. “Just get us to a hospital, and find this baby girl’s mama!”

And they did.

They followed her blood trail out of the bathroom, past those bronze statue people, down the steps, all the way past Hudson News, and right up to the Greyhound ticket counter. She was just getting off line, gripping a ticket to Pittsburgh. They took hold of her by the arm at the very moment her knees buckled, so we all ended up at Bellevue. We were there a whole week, and every day the nurses asked my mother if she wanted to see me. She never did say yes.

But Nell? She didn’t leave my side, not once, when I was in the hospital. And she didn’t catch the bus to the Bronx to visit Henry like she was planning to do that day.


BABY–Kathleen C Elken

This book has an interesting premise, the narrator tells the story of how she was born into a Port Authority restroom toilet / her birth mother deserted her but was found further on in the bus terminal. There is a caring adult named Nell who finds the baby and is showing signs of loyalty & compassion to this baby by the end of the first page. For me the story caught hold of all my senses in a very graphic way; but I was actually distracted by the sheer and very graphic depictions of blood / urine / the toilet bowl / the baby—to the point where I couldn’t get a handle on my emotions as I read. It felt like too much too fast.

I think a more successful approach might be to show more of the mother as she decides to get rid of her baby so that we have a human connection, whether or not we agree or disagree with her choice. I was also wondering how the mother could have given birth without calling attention to herself, so that made me question whether I could believe the premise or not. In a nutshell, I think the first page might be the “flight” but the author should create a “runway” before take off. The voice is energetic, first person but I’d like to see more layers of emotions rather than just vivid descriptions . . . how does this girl feel as she tells the story of her entry into the world? Ashamed / Sad / Angry??

An idea: I did wonder if perhaps it might make sense for Nell to be telling the story, that might add some tenderness and make the graphic nature of the first scene easier to handle.


Gabe’s Garage of Goodies by Andrea R Huelsenbeck (picture book)

Mike sprayed his truck with the hose, whistling while the suds washed away. The sunlight shone through the spray, creating rainbows if he looked at just the right angle.

He rewound the hose and grabbed his pair of car towels. With one, he quickly wiped off the water droplets; then he polished the surface with the second until it shone, reflecting his happy face.

“Hey, Mike! Look at this!”

Mike’s smile turned upside down at the sound of his neighbor’s voice. He looked up to see Gabe towing a huge canister behind him.

“This is my new Car Vac Plus! Want to see how powerful it is?”

“No, that’s okay. I’ve seen car vacs before,” said Mike, trying to avoid one of Gabe’s disastrous demonstrations.

“Not one like this! It has the suction of a black hole! Here, let’s vacuum out your truck.”

“No, really, it’s okay, I already vacu…”

But Gabe wasn’t listening. He unwound about a hundred feet of cord from the vacuum and walked to Mike’s front porch to plug it in. Then he returned to the canister, flicked a switch, and swoosh, the vac vibrated into action. Gabe grabbed the vacuum hose and, opening the passenger door, began vacuuming away. “You see that? Look at this puppy pick up!”

“Yeah, Gabe, very cool, but I’ve got to finishing polishing the truck before…”

“Don’t you worry about a thing. We’ll have this truck detailed in no time at all! Hey, why don’t you come over tonight for a barbecue?”

“Thanks, but I have a busy day today…”


This is a funny story about an annoying neighbor named Gabe, who interrupts Mike’s zen moment of car washing. We all know people like Gabe, who want to be helpful but don’t pick up social signals 🙂 I am not sure where this story is going or how old Gabe and Mike are. They seemed like adults. It didn’t come across as a picture book, it felt more like the opening of a chapter book. I think it could move faster so that we understand what’s going on more quickly, especially given how short most picture books are. In a nutshell, give us more detail on the characters and get to the point more quickly.


THINGS YOU FORGET by S. K. Van Zandt Young Adult

It’s late November and lousy cold. Wind mixed with sleet gusts across the parking lot. Jordan Rutherford crosses to his truck, yanks the door hard against the freezing blasts, and climbs in. Engines start around him. Headlights blink on. Cars pull slowly away from the church for the long drive to the cemetery. Jordan looks toward the front of the line at the white limo, a foggy stream of air pouring from its exhaust. His mother wants him to ride with her and his grandmother, but forget that. He wants to be alone.

He pulls in somewhere near the end of the line of cars, and they drive onto the main road. People steer their cars onto the crusty edge of the pavement to let them pass. Some stop completely. A little kid leans out the window of a parked car and smiles and waves, like he’s watching a parade or something. Jordan wants this to be over.

When he finally gets to Woodland Memorial Cemetery, a crowd has already gathered, huddled beneath a dark green funeral tent that bends with every burst of wind. Several friends from school hang at the edge of the crowd, including Jordan’s best friend, T. J. Bradley.

Jordan stands on a nearby hill, apart from everyone. He looks past the crowd, at the rows and rows of graves dotting the icy ground, then back to the funeral tent and the waiting grave beneath. If he narrows his eyes just right, everything blurs. As the pastor begins talking, Jordan walks back to his truck, climbs in, and drives away without looking back.



I was really moved by this one; it grabbed my attention and I wanted to know more about these characters and what Jordan’s role in the death was. I felt genuine emotion coming through the words. I think this is a strong first page. My only comment is to choose every word carefully, and where there is an opportunity for an appropriate extra detail, grab it. (I’m thinking of the line with the little kid leaning out the window, that seemed like a chance to add a telling detail and use fewer words as well.)


Vera Truley Gets Real—A Middle Grade Novel by Mary Zisk

If Dad hadn’t lost 203 pounds, I wouldn’t be standing in my backyard right now facing the famous and gigantic Dog Wizard, his reality TV video crew wouldn’t have their cameras pointed at me like a firing squad, my mother wouldn’t be beaming hopeful messages at me with her eyes, and Sylvester Bragg wouldn’t be…well, he just wouldn’t be.

But Dad did lose 203 pounds on From Flab to Fab and won the Grand Prize of $350,000.

And according to Sylvester Bragg, Dad’s loss is our family’s gain. “There are big bucks to be had in the Reality TV game,” Bragg had said when he got Mom and Dad to sign the contract making him our family’s talent agent. “Reality TV is everywhere! It’s your turn in the spotlight. I just know the Truley family are the kind of fascinating, charismatic characters that America will become obsessed with.”

Since then, Mom sees our family as a rich, untapped goldmine waiting to be cashed in.

I’m not totally convinced. Yeah, I can see my little sister Anjelica shining like a diamond, especially in talent and beauty pageants. Jeli loves the spotlight.

Mom imagines herself as a major fashionista, but her taste is somewhere between Ringling Brothers and a bad ‘80s music video. Dad’s already proven he’s mediagenic with his Grand Prize win.

And Henry? To me, my big brother is just a pimply lump of teenager who only cares about his car, his phone, and his girlfriend (in that order). I don’t see any star potential there.

And that leaves me—a dog lover on the edge of teenager-hood with a mouthful of braces trying to show my worth during this taping of The Dog Wizard.

Pookie wags his tail and smiles up at me. His leash slides in my sweaty hand and I pat his shaggy beige head to relax him and me. Well, maybe more me than him. He whines as if he’s saying “not again!”



This story is told in first person by an “almost” teenager. The father has won a weight-loss contest and the family is given their own reality show. It seems like a funny premise but I think there are far too many ingredients in this first page; I was also confused by the name of the tv show—The Dog Wizard. I didn’t understand how we went from weight loss to a show called The Dog Wizard in a few paragraphs. I didn’t see the relationship. I think the mistake here is that the author tried to create more of a synopsis than a first page. It’s very hard to introduce every character in the first 250 words. I would advise this author to take her time and give us a full and funny depiction of each character. Perhaps the entire first page could be devoted to Dad’s 203-pound weight loss. It seems like a good opportunity to have some fun and show some humanity. From there you can roll into the victory and offer more nuance about the name of the show and the other characters.

In a nutshell, breathe . . . take your time . . . flesh out your characters before you start moving them around. Get inside their heads, don’t just describe, go from the outside to the inside and show us who they are.


Thank you Holly for sharing your time and expertise with us. Everyone can learn something even if there work was not critiqued. Also, good luck with your new wonderful book MATYLDA, BRIGHT & TENDER.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Insightful tidbits and terrific advice! Thanks, Holly and Kathy!


  2. Brilliant stuff, Holly 🙂 Always SO much to learn and think about!


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