For those of you who don't know me, you can read more about me here http://gaepolisner.com/. Suffice it to say, I am a writer with my debut YA novel, The Pull of Gravity, coming out May 2011. And, I’m excited to do this Friday Feedback thing with you all, “you all” defined as whoever wants to be here participating. :)
Seriously, if you’re here, chiming in, I’m happy. Especially if you’re a teen or young adult, since that’s what I’ll be posting and writing about here. Sometimes, I’ll invite you to critique a piece of my writing (and offer the opportunity for you to post your own excerpt in the comments and receive critique from me or any of my writer or non-writer friends who might stop by); sometimes, I’ll post an excerpt from a piece of literature I like, and we’ll do the same for that (with you choosing a favorite excerpt of yours, maybe from something new you're reading).
Why am I so excited about this? Writers often write in a vacuum. As such, you’ll often hear us commenting that we have no idea if something we’ve written is great, or if it’s crap. I mean, you’d think we’d know, but sometimes, honestly, we just don’t. Sometimes, the chasm of doubt we stare down is that gaping and wide.
If you don’t believe me, here’s a quote I love from an interview with one of my all-time favorite authors William Goldman (his novels include Marathon Man, The Color of Light, The Princess Bride, and more movie screenplays than we can count on our combined fingers including Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – don’t tell me if you’re too young to know it, it will break my heart), and IMHO, one of the greatest writers and storytellers of all time:
“One of the things I love to do when I work with young writers is to disabuse them of the notion that I know what I'm doing. I don't know what I'm doing. . . as we are speaking, I am looking at my computer, tearing out my hair, thinking, well, is this horrible, or is this going to work? I don't know. Storytelling is always tricky."
Having said that, let’s get started. In the dark. Together. Today, I’ll put my own writing on the spot. These are the opening several pages from an "Upper YA" (meaning age 16+) WIP (Work in Progress) I'm currently revising as per my agent's recommendations. It bears the the working title, Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me (*raise your hand in your comment if you know who Jack Kerouac is*). I'm particularly interested in your feedback on these opening pages because they feel less catchy and more cumbersome or detailed than my usual style of writing... so your HONEST feedback will really help. (*bites fingernails, braces self*)
But, before we get started...
Here are The RULES. There are only three for now, to keep things simple. I would like the following feedback (and will offer the same to you if you post an excerpt for me to read in the comments -- see further rules re: that below):
• If it is the first few paragraphs of a novel – as it is today – tell me if it "hooks" you enough to make you want to keep reading, or not. If yes, why? If no, why not?
• What else works for you, and why?
• What doesn’t work for you (if something doesn't) and why?
Now, here's how you can also get some feedback: If you are working on something, and would like the same feedback, please post your excerpt after your feedback. Please post between 3 -5 paragraphs, and no more. If there's more, I will only read the first 3 -5 paragraphs. If the comment gets too long, feel free to reply in two separate comments. If you are a student from a particular class, please identify yourself as such. If not, let me know how you found me.
Good! Deep breath (er, the deep breathing was for me…). Thanks for participating! Here we go!
It is believed that the Jezebel’s brightly-colored underside
serves as a warning pattern to predatory animals.
The butterflies arrived on a Saturday, but I waited till Sunday to open them since I needed Max’s help with the greenhouse. It was late April, and I had been dating Max Gordon a few weeks by then, but that particular day stuck with me because of how he built the greenhouse, and also because of what Aubrey had said.
We were all in my room unpacking the boxes. I gave Max the box with the greenhouse parts, and Aubrey and I sat together on my bed tackling the ones with the butterfly larvae. Well, mostly, I tackled, while Aubrey flailed around bored on my bed.
She used to like the butterflies almost as much as I did, but lately she seemed to be over them. Maybe it was another symptom of how we were growing apart. She wanted to blame Max for it, but I just think it was one of those things.
“You could always go home,” I said, not looking up at her. I worked at a piece of masking tape that sealed a small bubble-wrapped box with air holes in the top. In fairness to Aubrey, it was a gorgeous spring day outside. It’s not like I would have blamed her or anything.
I glanced at Max. He sat at my desk, head down, earbuds in, working on the metal frame. Occasionally he’d sing some weird lyric out loud, which was kind of funny because he liked old rock and roll by people like Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix that I only even knew about from my parents.
“Under that apple suckling tree, oh yeah! That's underneath that tree, there's gonna be just you and me. Underneath that apple suckling tree, oh yeah!!”
Aubrey rolled her eyes then gave me this look that said ‘what on Earth do you possibly see in him?’ but I ignored her because I knew deep inside she was just jealous of how hot and heavy things had gotten between us. Plus, I thought it was cute how Max liked the old music that pretty much no one listened to anymore. Even if the lyrics were seriously odd.
“Now, who's on the table, who's to tell me? Oh yeah! Who's on the table, who's to tell me? Oh yeah!”
I laughed out loud avoiding Aubrey’s eyes, and kept working on the box instead. It was sealed tightly with clear packing tape and marked “FRAGILE” on one side and “JEZEBELS” on the other in black Sharpie. There was a second box still in the shipping carton marked “GLASSWINGS,” and those were my Nana’s choice.
Both the Jezebels and the Glasswings were gifts from her for my 16th birthday which wasn't until the end of June. But, since they were Tropicals, they had to be flown in from Australia, so we ordered them early to allow for the shipping and make sure the larvae would hatch here in the spring.
At least Nana still liked the butterflies; Mom didn’t seem to care about them anymore. Which surprised me in a sad way, but less and less by then. Anyway, it was me who had chosen the Jezebels, and Nana who had picked out the Glasswings.
"Ooh, what about these here, Jean Louise?” she had squealed like a little kid as she ran her finger over the glossy catalogue photos of a specimen that looked like it was made of stained glass. And Nana was right, the Glasswings were beautiful, but for some reason I liked the Jezebels best. Especially, Delias hyparete metarete, common name Painted Jezebel, which looked like a boring gray moth on the top and hid its amazing colors underneath like a secret.
Maybe I related to the Jezebels because of how plain I felt on the outside. Not that I wasn’t basically pretty – because I was – but in the sort of way you could ignore, or walk right on by. Straight, light brown hair, above-average tall, with B-cup boobs on a nearly-stick-straight figure. Mom said I went out of my way not to look prettier, that all I needed was a gel bra and some eyeliner. That was easy for her to say.
Mom was petite and exotic, in a steal-your-breath kind of way. She was small, but curvy, with long legs, shiny straight black hair, and these stormy, almost-lavender eyes. Dad used to call her voluptuous but to me she seemed more fragile than that. She reminded me of an exotic butterfly. Plus, she was younger than all my friends’ moms, having had me when she was still in college. Which only made things harder.
In fact, if she wasn’t my mother, I probably would have hated her. Or maybe I did hate her anyway. Or, maybe I just wished that I could.
- Ok, follow the rules, but have at it!