Posted by: Kathy Temean | July 30, 2021

July Agent Of the Month – Erin Clyburn – FIRST PAGE RESULTS

Erin Clyburn – Associate Literary Agent

Critiquing four first page for July

Erin joined The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency as Associate Literary Agent in 2019 after an internship and apprenticeship with a boutique literary agency. She has worked as a copy editor and recipe editor in the magazine industry and was general manager and director of collection development for Turtleback Books. She received her BA in English Literature from Mississippi State University and her MA in Children’s Literature from Hollins University. When not working, Erin loves hiking, cooking, traveling, painting, and trying to keep her three rabbits, Felix, Agnes, and Valentino, from chewing up every baseboard in the house.

LOOKING FOR:

CHILDREN’S MIDDLE GRADE:

  • Creepy and scary stories
  • Contemporary with big hearts, humor, and unforgettable voices
  • Mystery, especially with scavenger hunt or puzzle-solving elements
  • Grounded stories with magical or speculative elements

YOUNG ADULT: 

  • Horror
  • Dark contemporary
  • Queer and BIPOC rom-coms
  • Thriller
  • Mystery
  • Magical realism
  • Grounded stories with magical or speculative elements
  • Lush, literary stories

ADULT FICTION

  • Upmarket and book club fiction with great hooks and writing that leans literary
  • Sharp women’s fiction
  • Domestic and psychological thrillers, especially by BIPOC authors
  • Mystery
  • Humorous and satirical novels, with ensemble casts or stellar protagonists
  • Horror of all stripes, especially horror plus other genres, like mystery horror or romantic horror
  • Multigenerational family sagas (I would love one by a BIPOC author set in the South)
  • Grounded stories with magical or speculative elements
  • Southern Gothic

ADULT NONFICTION: 

  • Narrative nonfiction or memoir about sports or adventure (Alone on the Wall, Wild)
  • Pop science (Oliver Sacks, Mary Roach)
  • High-interest nonfiction, particularly histories and stories about fascinating people and issues that haven’t been told before (The Radium Girls, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks)
  • Cookbooks and culinary histories
  • Science- or culture-focused memoirs and narrative nonfiction (My Brain on Fire, Educated, Full Body Burden)

MORE SPECIFICS:

  • My favorite books—MG, YA, and adult—are those that are set in our world but with elements of weird: Karen Thompson Walker’s The Dreamers and The Age of Miracles, Marisha Pessl’s Neverworld Wake, The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton, Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas, Kevin Wilson’s Nothing to See Here, The Riverman by Aaron Starmer. Please send me your weirds!
  • I love stories about food, stories with lots of food, good descriptions of food, etc.
  • An Alabamian, I would love to see diverse Southern voices writing stories set in the South.
  • Across the board, I am looking for projects from underrepresented writers.

BELOW ARE JULY’S FOUR FIRST PAGES AND ERIN’S THOUGHTS: 

Terminal Velocity by Marcy Collier – Young Adult

The plane door slid open with a thud. The whoosh of air struck my face hard, like a skateboard spill onto asphalt but without the road rash. Inching over, barely holding the bar for support, I peered over the edge, secretly daring the wind to exhale its strong breath and spitball me from the plane.

Bouncing on my toes, excitement pulsed through my body, but I had to wait for Reese’s signal. Dad taught me well. Now his best friend tried to fill the empty role.

He stood behind me, tethered by safety harnesses, parachute and backup parachute. Reese held me with one hand and counted backwards from five with his scarred hand. I signaled with a thumb’s up like Dad had taught me during our jumps together. Three. Two. One.

In sync, we jumped, knees bent, head back, arms crossed. Breathless. Head rush. Escape.

Reese signaled with a shoulder tap for me to open my arms wide. Adrenaline pulsed. Wind chafed my skin. As we fell, my math brain quickly calculated the momentum and velocity, seeing the equation clearly in my head like it was printed on the physics whiteboard.

Gaining momentum, heading toward terminal velocity. Wind pushing my back. Free. My weightless body sailed through the air. Buildings, roads and rivers like miniature displays. Seconds ticked away. Our green landing field visible.

“Parachute now.” Reese yelled, then the parachute exploded above us into a prism of colors. My entire body jerked upward like a yo-yo pulled back by its string. My shallow breathing became steady. One ear, then the other popped. Gliding. Peaceful. Floating.

Perfect, blue sky. Billowy, cumulus clouds. Bright sun energized me, if only for a brief, blissful time. The ground below came into clear focus, a sea of green grass dotted with West Virginia wildflowers. Suddenly, the ground rushed me. Reality rushed me. I pushed those feelings from my head. Not now. Let me have one normal, happy moment.

HERE IS ERIN:

Hi Marcy,

Thanks for the opportunity to read your opening page. For such an active scene, you do a good job here balancing the protagonist’s interiority and the external action. The description of skydiving is really fun and vivid; I especially like that even in the first two sentences, we know what the protagonist’s life is like; you’d only use the analogy “like a skateboard spill onto asphalt” if you were a daredevil/into extreme sports. You do a nice job of varying your sentence structure in this opening page, too, which helps with the energy flow of the page. The only thing I really find myself wondering or questioning is what happens next, but I think that means this page works really well.

*******

Shadow Monsters by Sally Lotz – Upper Middle Grade, Horror

Fog gathers in clumps in the vineyards surrounding our farmhouse, hiding the white stone of The Wall in the distance. I walk down our long gravel driveway, my eyes focused ahead until everything is a blur. I don’t like the vineyard anymore. It’s not like when Sam was alive. I shiver and tug my sleeve over the smooth stump where my forearm used to be, a constant reminder of how I’d killed him.

It’s hard not to think about him. He’s been gone two years ago – today. Luke, I hope he doesn’t remember. Since he’s my best friend, he will, and he’ll try comforting me too in his weird Luke way. Comfort is what I don’t want. I shove my only hand into my pocket and rub my thumb along the cold, sharp edge of Sam’s knife, the only thing I have left of him. That and the grainy Polaroid picture of that day, the sun catching behind him like a halo, Buddy sitting next to him. But that was never his. It was always mine.

I stand at the end of the driveway, the toes of my dusty shoes at the edge where the gravel meets the road and face the small shelter that had once been the school bus stop. I push away the memories of waiting for the bus, excited to go to school. It was different then. Now, school is a place to get a meal and get out of the house. We don’t learn anything new.

The wind tugs at my jacket and tousles my hair. I hear my name, Winnie. It’s as clear as if Sam were calling me. I spin around, expecting to see him behind me, forgetting the nightmare I’m living. Of course, there is no one, nothing, except the clumps of fog and my home in the distance; its windows dark, a thin plume of smoke drifting up from the stone chimney. Shivering, I turn back. Pulling my hood up, I cover my ears, so I won’t hear him anymore. The place where my hand once was and the scar on my forehead both ache. I turn and walk down the middle of the crumbling street, focusing my mind on things from before.

HERE IS ERIN:

Hi Sally,

Thanks for the opportunity to read your opening page. My first impression is that this feels more like YA than MG; the content feels like it’s going to be on the mature side, with potentially more violence than would normally be in upper MG. There’s a lot of information in this opening page, which makes it difficult to feel grounded, especially since all of the information being conveyed is about things that happened in the past. In just one page, we learn of Sam, Luke, and Buddy, but as it’s all exposition, it comes across as a barrage of information since we’re only in Winnie’s head with no other action or dialogue, and the reader doesn’t know who these characters are. The atmosphere here is really nice, but it feels more like you’re communicating backstory than starting the plot.

*******

CreamTop Academy by Amy Greenhouse

The poodles stopped prancing.  The bears stopped juggling.  Tony the Clown adjusted his red wig.  The spotlight danced around the Big Top until it found me and Papa in the center ring.

I wiped my sweaty hands first onto my blonde crew-cut hair and then onto my black fire- retardant bodysuit.  I took three batons from Papa’s hands and waved them at the cheering crowd.  I juggled the batons for a minute or two, avoiding my father’s glare. Faking a big smile, I caught one of the batons and bopped myself on the head before returning it to somersault with the others.

I scanned the tent and saw Mama and Zenon standing in the shadows outside the ring, Mama with a stiff smile, Zenon with a smirk.  If only I were like Zenon, stuffing my pockets with knives or matches. That would make Papa proud.

“Light them now,” Papa directed through gritted teeth.

“Can’t I just juggle a bit, to warm up? Get it?  Warm up?”

Papa didn’t smile.  Ugh, why couldn’t I have been born into a clown family?  The worst that could happen would be getting stuck in a small car.

“Enough fooling around,” Papa commanded.

“I don’t want to do this,” I begged.  “I’m not ready.” I
“You should have paid better attention in practice.” Papa flicked a match across the gold that capped his front teeth. “Don’t disappoint me.”

With trembling hands, I dipped the baton into the chalice of charcoal lighter fluid. Papa lit the baton and red, gold and blue flames shot into the air like deadly flower petals. I started to spin the flaming baton. First one, then two, then three. But the flames were just too close, too close and too hot.

HERE IS ERIN:

Hi Amy,

Thanks for the opportunity to read your opening page. The opening scene is really fun here; I love how you start the story with the circus performers. The imagery here all around is really nice—the dad flicking the match on his gold teeth, the juggling bears, the colorful flames from the baton. The dialogue is strong too; I feel like I know who this family is and a bit of what their relationship is like, as well as the main character’s feelings about their currently situation. My advice here would be to be careful about varying your sentence structure; some of the paragraphs start to feel monotonous: “I wiped… I took… I juggled… I caught… I scanned.” If you vary these a bit more, it will make your opening page that much stronger.

*******

What Would Gwen Do? by Sheryl Stein – Contemporary WF

CHAPTER ONE

There’s not enough Zoloft in the world to help me survive this party.

As I sat cross-legged atop the tapestry-patterned loveseat, my elbow carried the weight of my aching head as I watched my big sister Melanie suck all the love, laughter, and oxygen from our parents’ living room. I’d promised to keep my cell off for the duration, trading that particular umbilical for my somewhat-tenuous family one. The deep forest green walls, combined with the cloudy New Jersey day sneaking in through the blinds, smothered my soul. An inch of Pekoe’s black tail stuck out from beneath the nearby velvet couch. Envying the life choices of my mom’s cat? Totally.

Aunts, uncles, cousins, and people I’d never seen before thronged my sister and her fiancé, Alex. My mom beamed, her second? Third? Vodka- and lime-filled highball waggling in one hand while she pointed like an insistent compass at my sister with the other. Per usual, it was all about Melly. Pitying glances darted my way from her rapt audience. I loved my sister, but I didn’t love being parentally portrayed as the Goofus to her Gallant. Perpetually. I exhaled my disappointment, secretly stalked the Insta profile of a jerk from high school, and buried my phone again to scan the room, zeroing in on Dad.

My father’s rebellion began with the removal of his suit jacket. After draping it over a chair, he studied the room, then locked eyes with my mom, who was consumed in conversation. Noting her distraction, he hustled to the hors d’oeuvres table and piled a plate high with latkes and cocktail-sized Hebrew Nationals. I stared as he decorated the mini dogs with a healthy mound of Heinz, looking side to side and grinning like the cat who ate the canary.

Spooning a blob of applesauce on his plate, he turned and noticed me staring. The fine china tipped to one side; one little hotdog rolled off and splatted onto the floor.

Busted.

HERE IS ERIN:  

Hi Sheryl,

Thanks for the opportunity to read your opening page. The humor here is really fun; after just one page I feel like I know this family and what their dynamics are. Watch for the verb tense shift between the first sentence and the rest of the page. While the voice is really great, I find myself wanting to see the protagonist involved in the story around her, rather than just watching. We do get some interiority and learn about her feelings, but she’s just an observer, and with such an active scene going on around her, I wish she was a bit more active in it than just sitting on the couch trying not to look at her phone. Even if it’s just a blip of interaction with the cat, the sister, the dad, something like that, I think it would help her feel more like part of this scene than just a viewer.

*******

Thank you Erin for taking the time to read and share your expertise with us. This was so helpful. Hope we can work again down the road. Keep in touch.

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy

 

 


Responses

  1. Erin, thank you for taking the time to read my first page and your kind words! Thanks also to Kathy for her dedication in helping writers gain critical feedback and hone their craft. I enjoyed reading all of the first pages! I really appreciate this opportunity!

    Liked by 1 person


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