Posted by: Kathy Temean | March 26, 2021

March Agent of the Month – Ann Rose – First Page Results

ANN ROSE AT PROSPECT AGENCY:

I am a California native who now resides in Texas after a stint in Florida. Each place has its pros and cons, but I can say that I left my heart in San Diego and dream of going back one day (although that will probably never happen). My degree is in Communication from San Diego State University, and my resume holds a gamut of jobs from Life Guard to Business Systems Analyst/Portfolio Manager, but books have always been my passion. I’m excited to finally merge my love of literature with my past professional experiences as a literary agent with Prospect. It is my honor to help authors build successful, sustainable careers.

I fell in love with young adult books when my niece asked me to read with her and I remain devoted to YA of all genres. I am looking for characters who aren’t afraid to stand up for their convictions and beliefs — whether they fight with their fists or their words. I’m also open to all genres of middle grade, and especially love stories that push the MG boundary by exploring topics that affect middle graders but aren’t always broached in stories written for them. In the adult arena, I adore swoony romances, light sci-fi or fantasy, commercial fiction, and heartwarming — or heart wrenching — contemporaries. I’m always looking for unique voices, diverse perspectives, vivid settings, and stories that explore tough topics. Dark and edgy is totally okay too. Above all I’m looking for compelling characters who make me think in new ways, and laugh and cry, hopefully in the same story!

My clients know I’m ready to roll up my sleeves to help create the best books possible, from brainstorming at the idea stage all the way through submissions and beyond. I love attending conferences, and sharing my knowledge of the publishing industry. I am a member of the SCBWI, YARWA and RWA.

BELOW ARE THE FOUR FIRST PAGES ANN READ AND HER THOUGHTS IN PURPLE:

Island Dark and Beautiful by Susan Williams Beckhorn, MG, historical fiction (survival, prehistory, Caribbean)

There was no earth-shudder of warning. In my dreaming, (Is this going to start with the character waking up?) there was the hiss of a great snake, which must have been the sea drawing herself back over broken shells on the beach. Then came a sound like a hurakan wind. I woke (And this is where I would stop reading. I don’t say this to be mean or cruel it is just a too common opening that I personally see too often, so for me, it just doesn’t work as a way to grab the reader and make it clear there is something unique or different about this story.) to a crushing wall of water, the canoe digging sideways, and my dog Biran scrambling desperately into the little space under the prow. We were lifted, spun around, the canoe half-swamped with water, and then sucked out away from the beach, with me clinging to the seat and screaming as new waves slammed and drenched us. Raging power. Fury. Away from shore. Out to sea. (There is a lot happening here right away and it’s unclear as to why. Why is the MC in a canoe asleep with their dog? Where are they? When are they? Where is everyone else? Why are they alone? This is MG so, where are their parents? It just doesn’t immediately ground the reader in what is happening. It’s a very cinematic start which is hard to pull of in books because we don’t have the music build up and the panning camera to immediately draw us into all the sights and sounds of this scene to understand what is going on.)

Scream as I might, the roar of the wave was louder.

At last, I fell silent, my throat raw. Above me, in the moonless sky, stars gleamed like unnumbered eyes—cold, unfeeling, watching our helplessness. (Lovely) The canoe was still moving, caught by the current and a steady breeze, but sluggish as a fat old woman (this feels like fat shaming, and I would encourage another way to describe this. Not all fat women are sluggish or out of shape.) with her burden of seawater.

Biran whimpered. I hugged him to me. He was soaked and shaking. He tried desperately to claw his way up my body, out of the water sloshing around us. I was soaked and shaking too, shocked by what had happened, but I could not let my poor dog be so terrified. “It is all right,” I whispered to him over and over—though nothing at all was right. (How can you not like a character who loves their dog. Very clever way of making us like them.)

I knew what had happened of course. Every few years, a great wave comes to our shore. Sometimes the earth shakes under our feet before it hits—sometimes not. I knew the sea wanted me. I had tempted her by hiding in my father’s canoe and she had come for me. What else did she have in mind?

What to do? The paddles of course! But where?

Gone.

No, not both!

The writing here is very solid and it’s almost impossible to not feel for this character who has found themselves washed out to sea.

But while I do feel for them, I’m not sure if I should care about them just yet because I just don’t really know anything about them at all.

I also just think the starting with a character waking up doesn’t feel fresh or original. There are probably at least ten different ways you could open this that don’t start with them waking up that would be even more effective for getting us to empathize and care about this MC, and I would encourage you to explore those.

*******

MONSTER (Did you say Monster? I’m listening.) REHAB by Monique Desir YA Fantasy

Someone wants to kill me; I can feel it. (You said monster, so someone or something? Also, I’m not sure I love the blatant telling of this with the filtering. I think showing us how the MC knows could be much stronger here. What do they “feel” that tells them this? Do they have some kind of power? Or sixth sense? You have an opportunity to really drop us into this MC’s head and give us a hint of who they are so consider really using it.)

While reviewing our (who is our) most recent case file, I sense this murderous intent. (Repetitious consider moving forward instead of repeating yourself here) In silence, I close the folder, fingers trembling. Fear reaches inside my chest and squeezes my heart. (Naming an emotion isn’t as powerful as showing it and while I don’t mean you have to show everything, here in the first page I think you could and it would be more compelling.) I don’t want to leave the safety of our (again who is our) family car, but a novice monster warden must master the art of numbness and feign courage because oftentimes our lives literally depend on it. (Love it.)

For some paranormal entities, fear is a five-course meal relished moments before they feast on your shrieking face. (YES!) I grab my terror by the throat and strangle it.

As my dad (consider just Dad, the “my” is implied in the first person POV) and I exit the sanctuary of our Mercedes minivan, I try to shake it: that ever-familiar, forever unnerving tingle inching up my spine then nips at the nape of my neck, as my brain screams: “Careful. You’re being hunted.” (Not to harp on it, but this is the third time they mention being afraid so I’m not sure you need to drive this home so hard. It’s already pretty clear. Also, we don’t know where they are, or when they are. There isn’t much grounding going on here so consider front loading just a little so we understand what they are stepping out to before they step out so we can visualize what you are in your head.)

This sixth sense assault pummels my nerves, and when I try to counterattack, it bobs and weaves, lingering just outside the fringes of my awareness. My father, (Do they call him Father or Dad? What do they call him? Consider just using that name. We are in their head so you can use the name they would call this character to keep us in deep POV) walking beside me, doesn’t seem to notice. He’s not the target. (Target of what? The killer? How do they know? Where are they, and what are they about to do?) Just when I think (I think is filtering, just like I feel, I see, I hear, I know, I realize, I wonder etc. and isn’t needed in a first person POV. The MC can’t mention any of those things unless they think, see, hear, feel, know, realize etc. Example: I see a red bird fly over my head. Or: A red bird flies over my head. Both tell us the MC sees the bird because they couldn’t mention it in a first person POV without seeing it. Make sense? So just allow your MC the ability to make observations without telling us they are making observations.) he’s oblivious to my obvious discomfort, one of his large hands squeezes my shoulder. “Nora, you okay?” (There’s the MC’s name – nice.)

I nod, inhaling the fresh outside air, a desperate attempt at grounding myself and realigning my aura. (What does this mean?) I detect (Filtering again – Nora can detect without telling us she detects.) the fragrant scent of jasmine growing alongside the heartthrob-red hibiscus bordering the landscaped sidewalk. Our client’s home is the last townhouse on the end of the row. Tall oak trees stretch toward the darkening sky, their silhouettes etched in chartreuse light and when a cool breeze blows, autumn leaves flutter and fall near the roots where the shadows seem to swallow them. (Here is the description and detail we need before Nora exits the car so we can visualize the scene as soon as possible) I don’t dare tell Dad (yes, like this—Dad works perfectly) the truth. I’ve got to prove I’m capable. (I kind of want a hint as to why and what is so important about this time, but I would totally read more.)

So this immediately grabbed me and reading this opening has me wanting more so while I left a number of notes, this is a solid opening and it does its job and does it well. I personally would love a little more of that scene setting right up at the front perhaps just after Nora’s discovery of someone wanting to kill her just so I can feel like I am grounded in the scene but otherwise it really is a solid start. Can I ask to see more of this? Because if I can, I would really, really like to.)

*******

Tim Donnelly – New Croatoan – YA Fantasy

Their eyes said it more harshly than their voices ever could, “Why do these boys run by our house every morning?” (It isn’t clear here where we are or who “they” are. While I feel this is supposed to draw intrigue it feels more jarring and leaves the reader with more questions than answers. Sometimes the most straightforward opening—including with immediately grounding the reader is the best choice. Or consider just being more specific here.)

We (pausing again here because we have a they and a we and the reader doesn’t know who either are. Plus, language like this, distances the POV) were running to Ranger Mathers’ house, and in a town with one road, it’s not like we could have taken another route. (You only need one space after a period. Find and replace is the easiest way to fix this. 😊)  Ranger Mathers was a 54-year-old former Army Ranger and he knew our only path to being seen as full-fledged humans was through the infantry.  So, he agreed to train any of us from the McClennon County Boys Home as long as we agreed to help tend to his property in return. (Lots of information on Ranger Mathers, but we still don’t know who the MC is. Or anything about them aside that they live in this home.)

Two weeks later, when I aged out of the home, I was going to enlist.   I would never run by those houses ever again.  I would never figure out which pair of eyes belonged to my real parents, despite years of searching for clues. (Interesting information, but I think you might be trying to give us a little too much set up here instead of just dropping us in the story.)

To be honest, I never got very far in that investigation.  I could never decide who I should suspect, the eyes that zeroed in on me as I ran down the street, or the ones that feigned distraction to avoid eye contact.  It was fun to make them uncomfortable by trying to lock eyes.  Their squirms made me giggle. (I’m a little confused. Do they think their parents live in this small town and yet no one has told them who they are? It seems like such a small town—only one road—so how could a secret like this have been kept? Again, I think there is just a little too much emphasis on this instead of starting the story.)  But two weeks later, it wouldn’t matter at all.  My wildest dreams had always begun by passing the ‘You Are Leaving West, Texas.  We’ll Be Here When You Get Back’ sign, and ignoring the second sentence.

But that day, we ran as a group just as we did every single day of every single summer.  I particularly loved the sound of it.  It was an orchestra, but it was much better than the holiday concerts the band put on at school.  The percussion-like rumble of sneakers pounding pavement.  The harmonious heavy breathing behind me.  The high pitched melody of my bare feet slapping hot asphalt.  I had learned quickly that our crosstown runs wore out sneakers much faster than I was given new pairs.    It all came together perfectly.

The writing is very smooth and there is a nice hint of mystery about this main character threaded through the piece. I also like the imagery of the group running here in the last paragraph.

One thing that stands out to me though is that this is said to be a YA fantasy and nothing in this page hints at all to that genre. It feels very much like a straight forward contemporary story.

Like I mentioned before I think you are trying to set up the backstory of this MC a little too much instead of allowing us to discover things about him as the story goes on. I’m not sure how necessary it is for me to know from the very first page that they don’t get sneakers enough, or that they enjoy making town people uncomfortable.

I would encourage you to ground the reader a little more in not just time and place but also in the genre of this story. Even if the “fantasy” part doesn’t come until later there are ways to hint that there will be fantasy elements.

While the writing is well done, I’m just not convinced this is the opening of this story.

*******

STOP MR. RYDEN  by Kim A. Larson – YA

Most kids my age dream (any time dream is mentioned in the first page I immediately start thinking—Is this going to start with the character waking up? Not saying it will but the talk of dreams and sleeping is used very often in openings so already I’m questioning which isn’t necessarily a good thing) about what they’ll do when they grow up. What I dream about actually happens. (In a bad way? In a good way? I’m not sure how I’m supposed to feel about this. I’m also not sure I understand the connection of dreaming what someone will be when they grow up and dreams that become real. It’s like comparing apples and oranges IMO and while both are fruit they’re not really the same thing.)

I dodge sweaty kids in the school supplies aisle at Walmart, holding my breath. Their grimy fingers maul boxes of crayons and markers. As I snatch a pack of colored pencils, a screechy cart lifts my attention. The middle-aged woman pushing it is wearing short shorts and a tight tank. Where have I seen her before?

I stare through the maze of shoppers.

Elle waves her hands in front of my face. “Earth to Anna.” (Good way to drop a MC’s name right here on the first page.)

The memory hits me—the woman appeared in my dream last night. She wore a red blouse, a white scarf, and navy pants. Like an American flag. She stood next to an open door, against a white backdrop with words written in black letters. Words I can’t remember. (Again, it’s unclear how I’m supposed to feel about this as it is unclear how the MC feels about this.)

“Anna … Anna …” my cousin continues.

My pulse quickens. Everything around me fades, illuminating the woman in today’s skimpy clothes. (Shorts and a tank top sounds normal for a summer day—which I assume because “school supplies” so I’m not sure why these are considered “skimpy” and this feels a little judgey on the part of the MC to describe this woman that way.)  I’m locked in some sort of a vision, like a dream but I’m awake. Seconds later, the scene disappears. Dazed, I nudge Elle and nod toward the woman. “She’s going to buy the yellow highlighters.” (I’m not sure how anything about what the MC saw brings her to this conclusion. What is the connection?)

The woman rummages through a bin of markers, note cards, and pens before tossing yellow highlighters into her cart.

“Wow. Good guess.”

“Not really.” I search my foggy brain for words to explain what just happened. “I saw this before—” (I’m a little confused because all we saw was nothing like what is happening here—not even the woman’s clothes. So I’m not sure what I should take from this.)

“Haven’t we all.” She flings her long, blonde hair over one shoulder. “Every August, getting new school stuff. You think we get our ninth-grade planners here or at school?”

This story sounds like it’s going to have a lot of intrigue in it coming down the line, but the woman and the markers I’m not sure is really setting this all off in the right way for you. I think you are trying to cram just a little too much here in this opening without allowing us to know anything about Anna first. And caring about her is much more important than any ability she may or may not have.

I think you might want to consider a different dropping in point. Of course I say this without knowing what comes next, but this just feels like it’s working too hard to try to be a grabbing opening and it shouldn’t have to. Anna seems like she is going to be a really interesting character and the snippets of voice we get from her are well done so trust that you are good enough and she is interesting enough without having to try to throw all the things at us at once. 

*******

Ann, thank you for sharing your time an expertise with us. I am sure many writers will be able to apply your thoughts to their own writing. Great job! Thanks. Feel free to send me any of your good news and I will share it with everyone to celebrate your successes. 

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Responses

  1. A big thankyou, Ann Rose, for a very helpful critique of the first page of my manuscript, Island Dark and Beautiful. Any chance I can send a revised first page to replace the one I sent with my submission to you so you can get past “I woke!”

    Like

  2. Reblogged this on Monique L. Desir and commented:
    Thank you, Ann Rose, for your feedback on the first page of my YA fantasy novel, Monster Rehab! Thank you, Kathy Temean, for hosting these resourceful posts! 🙂 Yay!

    Like


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