Posted by: Kathy Temean | October 27, 2017

Agent Jennifer Soloway: October First Page Results

OCTOBER AGENT OF THE MONTH: JENNIFER MARCH SOLOWAY ASSOCIATE AGENT AT ANDREA BROWN LITERARY.

Jennifer represents authors and illustrators of picture book, middle grade, and YA stories, and is actively building her list. Although she specializes in children’s literature, she also represents adult fiction, both literary and commercial, particularly crime, suspense and horror projects.

For picture books, she is drawn to a wide range of stories from silly to sweet, but she always appreciates a strong dose of humor and some kind of surprise at the end.

When it comes to middle grade, she likes all kinds of genres, including adventures, mysteries, spooky-but-not-too-scary ghost stories, humor, realistic contemporary and fantasy.

YA is Jennifer’s sweet spot. She is a suspense junkie. She adores action-packed thrillers full of unexpected twists. Throw in a dash of romance, and she’s hooked! She’s a sucker for conspiracy plots where anyone might be a double agent, even the kid next door. She is a huge fan of psychological horror that blurs the lines between the real and the imagined. But as much as she loves a good thriller, she finds her favorite novels are literary stories about ordinary teens, especially those focused on family, relationships, sexuality, mental illness, or addiction. In such stories, she is particularly drawn to a close, confiding first-person narrative. Regardless of genre, she is actively seeking fresh new voices and perspectives underrepresented in literature.

That’s her wish list, but the truth is an author might have something she has never considered before, and it might be absolutely perfect for her. She is open to any good story that is well written with a strong, authentic voice. Surprise her!

HERE ARE THE FIRST PAGE RESULTS:


 

TELL by Siri Weber Feeney – Middle Grade

We’re standing next to the gigant-o puppy mural outside the Flea Market. Yes, it’s a thrift store and yes, it’s broad daylight, but I can’t budge. I’m glued in place, counting the wrinkled dollar bills Mom’s handed me, hoping I’m wrong.  [See JS1 below]

“Mom, this won’t buy much, not even secondhan—”

“Next month we’ll buy more.”

“But—”

“But what? You’re almost thirteen. You can figure this out.  [See JS2 below]

“And Ray,” she says, dumping his sticky little-kid hand  on top of mine, [See JS3 below] “you behave for your sister.”

“Money!” says Ray, glomming on tight.

“Come get me when you’re done,” Mom says. I blink and she’s halfway down the block, putting as much sidewalk between her and the Flea as fast as possible, even though there’s no one around.

Ray yells, “Mom! My book!”

I give his hand a squeeze and he yells nicer, “Please Mom, my book!”

Mom ducks through the library doors and Ray says, “She heard, right?”

“Even if she didn’t,” I say, “she knows.”

I have to smile. Ray’s checked out Pippi Longstocking so many times, it’s practically his. The librarian had to buy another copy so someone else could have a chance to read it.

I curl my arm around his shoulder and aim him toward the door. “Come on, kindergarten guy, let’s see if we can find anything decent.”

“Gum’s decent,” says Ray, heading toward the gumball machine that’s chained to the puppy-painted wall.

NOTE FROM JENNIFER:

I find this story incredibly compelling and immediately feel for the protagonist for several reasons: (1) Mom hasn’t provided enough money (and I get the impression the family is poor, but I may be wrong; and (2) the protagonist seems to have a strained relationship with Mom. I’m curious to know what the protagonist hopes to buy and if it’s a want or a need. Adding a beat might help to raise the stakes and further develop the protagonist’s voice. Great start!

[JS1]I immediately sympathize with her. It’s so hard when you want—or need–something and can’t begin to afford the item. A high stake for a young protagonist. Great!

[JS2]This is a wonderfully tense moment. Not only can the protagonist not afford what she wants/needs, but her mother is not understanding or supportive. This spot is a great opportunity to add a beat of the protagonist’s feelings about her mother and their relationship.

[JS3]Nice POV!


 

DALLAS SPINOZZI DOESN’T GET SPORTS JOKES by Stephanie Lyon – MG

I cross my fingers and make a silent wish; I hope this boring assembly has dragged on too long and we will skip recess today.

            “Thank you for your attention students,” waves Principal Perkins wrapping up his speech. “And before you head to recess, I want to wish you good luck in the upcoming Presidential Physical Fitness Test. Or, as I like to call it, the P.P. F.T. for short.” [See JS1 below]

The quiet gym suddenly electrifies with groans and shouts. A few freaks high-five each other. Now I’ve seen it all. Who decided it was ok to humiliate students and grade them on how “fit” they are?  In front of other students. Just because I can’t do a pull up doesn’t mean that I am not fit. [See JS2 below] There are a lot of definitions of “fit” anyway . I fit through my dog door. My clothes from 4th grade still fit. I fit perfectly in my favorite reading chair. There. I’m fit.

            I slouch down in my seat hoping that by sliding to the floor I will be trampled by exiting students and sustain a Presidential Physical Fitness Test-ending injury. No such luck. Before I can hit the deck, Principal Perkins holds up his hands to hush the crowd.

“Northeast Elementary. I am ashamed of your attitude. I know this might be hard to believe, but not that long ago, I was a kid just like you. Every year I looked forward to the challenge of the Presidential Physical Fitness Test. I even placed in the highest fitness category in 5th grade and got a certificate signed by President Carter.”

“More like President Roosevelt,” whispers Liam to no one in particular.

“Or Taft,” shoots back Amanda. “He definitely resembles him around the mid-section.”

“Which just happened to be the same year I lead my club baseball team to the district championship,” Mr. Perkins continued.

A loud, wild laugh echoes through the gym. “Did I say something funny?” asks the principal narrowing his eyes scanning the room. The silence is deafening . Then a throat clears. [See JS3 below]

NOTE FROM JENNIFER:

I love this premise, and I’m immediately rooting for the protagonist. For the non-athletic kid, a standardized fitness test is the worst! However, I wonder if this scene might feel even more fraught if the protagonist learned about the fitness in gym class from the PE teacher and then was the first to be called to do a pull-up. Such a scene might be even more mortifying and start the story off with a bang—and a failed pull-up. Unless the protagonist surprises herself and is able to do one? That would be a fun twist!

[JS1]Terrific MG stake: the dreaded fitness text. I see some pullups in the protagonist’s future!

[JS2]Strong MG voice. Pull-ups are the worst!

[JS3]A vivid detail, but I wonder if there’s another way to describe the silence to highlight the protagonist’s MG POV?


 

Charlemagne Crosse: At Her Majesty’s Pleasure by PJ McIlvaine  –   MG Adventure

Up until she was ten years old, Charlemagne Crosse had the most wonderful, idyllic childhood any child could have ever hoped for or imagined. This was because her parents did not treat her like a helpless child to be fussed and fretted over.  From the moment Charlemagne came into the world, her parents, Sir Archibald, an inventor of strange and curious things, and Lady Lavinia, a portrait artist and free-thinker, regarded her as their equal in every respect. [See JS1 below]

By the time Charlemagne was a year old, she could write her name—in cursive. [See JS12 below] At three, she had memorized her favorite Charles Dickens novel, “David Copperfield”. While most girls of her age and breeding played with dolls, Charlemagne had already traversed the world thirty-two times.

This is not to say that the Crosses were perfect. [See JS3 below]  Sir Archibald had a fondness for ruffians, beggars, and Americans.  Lady Lavinia’s weakness was black licorice, brandy, and a pathological hatred of the letter S. Charlemagne herself had an aversion to yellow vegetables, plaid, and furry caterpillars. Aside from these few digressions, the Crosse family lived quite happily in Four Squared, a house where all the rooms were round, with no corners. It boasted a turret that was Charlemagne’s domain. There, she spent many happy hours.

Indeed, it was a cruel twist of fate that Charlemagne was in her most favorite room in the entire world (aside from her father’s laboratory) when on November 16, 1891, at 8:01PM (Greenwich Time), that her sublime childhood was rudely shattered by events beyond her control. [See JS4 below]

NOTE FROM JENNIFER:

What a wonderful, engaging opening to a middle grade novel! This piece has a strong, engaging MG voice that immediately pulled me into Charlemagne’s story; it reminds me a lot of Matthew Ward’s WAR OF THE WORLD RECORDS. (If you haven’t read it, I think you’d enjoy it a lot.) Right now, I don’t have a strong sense of what Charlemagne wants or her motivation. I wonder if there’s a way to introduce the conflict that happens on November 16, 1891 earlier on the first page, so we quickly know Charlemagne’s stakes, and then weave some of the marvelous character details in the subsequent pages, so we don’t lose any of character development. It’s really fun!

[JS1]How lovely to have a protagonist with an idyllic childhood. This feels so different from many stories I see and I find it refreshing.

[JS2]This is such a fun detail about Charlemagne and says so much about her character, I wonder if it might be a fun first line. One idea is start with her one-year-old detail, followed by her three-year-old detail, and then talk about her childhood. In other words, move these two sentences to the beginning of the first paragraph, and add the last sentence from this paragraph to the end of the first.

[JS3]This is wonderful shift from the perfection described in the opening paragraphs. Fun character details!

[JS4]Ooh! I’m very curious to find out what happened.


 

SUPERCASH by Rachel Stone – MG

I clutched my hall pass and glanced at my watch. Thirty seconds to the top-secret rendezvous. [See JS1 below]  Henry never asked me leave class to meet him before, so it’s had gottato be important . [See JS2 below] I picked up my pace and rounded the corner, stopping at the drinking fountain between the boys’ and girls’ bathrooms.

“Hey, Cash.” Henry stood up from taking a drink and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Just in time. I was starting to wonder if you were gonna ditch me on this historic day.”

“Enough of the mystery,” I said. “What’s up? Are you okay? Is it your dad?” [See JS3 below]

His smirk told me that his dad was still ticking. He’d pulled me out of class for something stupid. I looked at my watch.

What is it? I don’t have long. Miss Romero almost wasn’t going to let me go.”

“Until she remembered you’re her favorite student?”

“Yeah. Pretty much.” I couldn’t help but smile. “So, what do you want?”

“The same thing you do— excitement.” Henry drummed his fingers against each other and let out an evil chuckle. [See JS4 below]

“At school?” I was used to getting sucked into his schemes on the weekends—the cost of being best friends with Henry, version 13.0. But this sounded risky. I checked both ways to make sure the hall was still empty. “What’s the plan?”

“It’s all in here.” He patted a plastic grocery bag hanging on his arm. “I’ll show you in a second. But first, Rock, Paper, Scissors. Loser makes the drop. Winner’s the lookout.”

Henry made a fist. I did the same. Not because I wanted to, but not accepting the challenge would have been like holding back a sneeze or not scratching an itch.

“One, two three… Ha!” said Henry. “Paper covers rock.”

NOTE FROM JENNIFER:

[JS1] You have me at secret rendezvous!
[JS2] I think this sentence would make a terrific opening line to raise a question and pull the reader into the story!

[JS3] I’m very curious about Cash’s relationship with Henry. Is Henry a friend, a romantic interest, a frienemy? I suggest adding two small beats about Cash’s thoughts/feelings for Henry and why Cash is worried about Henry’s dad. 

[JS3] A great line! I wonder if Cash really does enjoy excitement or if Henry is having fun? After the “evil chuckle” (a marvelous detail), I suggest adding a beat of Cash’s feelings to further develop character and voice. We know from the next paragraph Cash is nervous about the idea of “excitement” at school, but does he find the nonetheless intriguing or possibly terrifying? 

I love MG stories about friendship, and Henry and Cash are an engaging pair. Henry’s character comes alive on the page in this opening scene, with his evil chuckle and schemes. I have less of a sense of Cash from this page. His middle grade voice is spot on, but I think adding a few small beats of Cash’s perspective would make his character pop even more. Really fun!


 

Thank you Jennifer for sharing your time and expertise with us. We really enjoyed getting to know you. Keep in touch and let us know of your future successes.

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Responses

  1. Wow, I’ve got to say those were some amazing first pages! Congrats to all…and thank you Kathy and Jennifer. I haven’t submitted a first page in a while, but I always look forward to & read them every month, no matter who’s critiquing. And learn!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you for the opportunity, Kathy, and Jennifer for her awesome notes. The fact that it came as a complete and total surprise made it all the more delicious. 🙂

    Like

  3. Thanks for critiquing my first page! It was fun to get some feedback and know which direction to head in the next phase of revisions.

    Like

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