Friday, July 21, 2017

Friday Feedback: A Treat with a Twist: My Editor's Take on Your First Moments

The day our first baby together arrived!
We have a second baby coming March 2018!!! 
You guys are uber, ridiculously lucky today, because I wrangled my shiny & fabulous editor at St. Martin's Press & Wednesday Books, Vicki Lame, into guest hosting Friday Feedback today.

Nope, I'm not kidding!

I asked her if she'd answer these three simple questions:

1. What grabs you in the beginning of a manuscript?

2. What keeps you reading?

3. And, um, would you give my nine zillion campers feedback on their beginnings?

(Okay, I may have slipped that last one in when she wasn't fully listening. . . but she agreed!!! And she's here to do just that!)

Because she's busy and spends her life reading submissions, I do want to make it as simple and easy for her to be here  -- after all, Friday Feedback can be a bit of a frenzy, albeit the best kind of wonderful frenzy.

So I'm simplifying the rules, and twisting them a bit today:

  • Please only submit the opening 3 - 5 paragraphs of your manuscript, or story. If you submit more, I have told her to only focus on the first 3 - 5;

  • Rather than our usual format of "what works, what doesn't, and would you keep reading?", Vicki will simply share with you what pops out at her -- her quick first impression: essentially what she sees in your writing, or feels as she is reading.  

  • I will only likely chime in on the excerpts she cannot get to if she cannot get to them all, because who wants to hear from me when you have her?!

  • FYI, she will be limited in how much she is able to respond to TODAY, but will be reading excerpts through the weekend. Having said that, please don't post new excerpts past Friday night. She will do her best to get to at least the first 50 excerpts between today and Sunday.

Pretty freaking amazing, right?

Right. :)

So, without further ado, here's Vicki with some absolute gems about what she is looking for when she opens a manuscript and begins to read that first chapter:

What I want to see in a first chapter:

-          A strong depiction of a main character. I want to know exactly who that character or what we might find out later by even the smallest of details… the crooked way his tie hangs, or the brief hesitation when she answers a call from someone. Your characters should be three-dimensional right from the beginning.

-          A propulsive first scene not bogged down by too much exposition/internal dialogue. Show us who your character is and what world we are in, don’t tell me. Let me learn about it and make connections for myself.

-          Tight writing. Don’t be flowery for the sake of being flowery. And don’t tell me every little action the character makes. I don’t need to know “she lifted her hand to the cabinet to open the door to take out the mug for her tea.” I just need to know she took out a mug.

-          No tricks. Those first few paragraphs tell a reader exactly what they are getting into. So, unless it is pivotal to the plot, I don’t want to see any tricks. If your manuscript is a young adult romance, it shouldn’t read like a thriller.

-          A willingness to be bold, to be different. There are a ton of books out there, more than ever before, don’t be afraid to write a book that will stand out from the pack. Don’t write something because you think it’s popular, write the story that only you can tell.

So, there you have it. No excerpt from me today. Just you, the comment box, and a real opportunity to be brave.

xox gae & Vicki

---Vicki Lame is an editor at St. Martin’s Press and Wednesday Books. Titles include, Geek Girl Rising: Inside the Sisterhood Shaking Up Tech by Heather Cabot and Samantha Walravens, The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence by Alyssa Palombo, and The Memory of Things by award-winning author Gae Polisner. She is lucky to be able to work across age groups and genres, acquiring upmarket women’s fiction and historical fiction as well as select non-fiction and a variety of young adult titles. She lives in Brooklyn, NY with her highly Instagrammable cat, Troy.


  1. Vicki, thank you for taking the time to critique us! And thanks, Gae, for the opportunity.

    Here are the opening lines to my middle grade novel:

    I didn’t mean for the accident to silence me forever. It just happened.

    Everyone noticed it. “Why doesn’t Mercedes talk anymore?”

    “She used to be such a chatty girl.”

    When I was throwing a baseball, I never even noticed the silence.

    The smack of the ball into my glove.

    The release.

    The whoosh of the ball through the air.

    The smack into Jinx’s glove, or on the wall, or the thump of the ball on the ground.

    That was the only noise I needed.

    1. Marcie, I'm drawn in for sure. I feel the baseball and the character coming through. Would drove to read some of this...

    2. Marcie, I love this beginning. Your use of white space and short sentences fits so well with a character that is being silent. I would definitely read more of this.

    3. Hi Marcie! This is a perfect example of simple writing packing the exact right punch. There is just enough for readers to want to know more: why is she silent now? What happened? I don't even think you need to directly mention an accident so early. I would perhaps consider rearranging your opening a bit even to pack a bit more punch by starting with the noises she hears when throwing a baseball. And then lead into everything else. Baseball and the sounds you hear when playing baseball, those are what make her her. So everything else is the dismantling of that, why she might not be her anymore. Does that make sense? Overall I think you are off to a great start!

    4. Vicki, I feel so proud of myself because I had the exact same comment. Simplifying even more, I feel like it would be that much more powerful if it simply started here:

      Everyone noticed it. “Why doesn’t Mercedes talk anymore?”

      That line does SO much. It reminds me of Chuck Wendig's post about leaving out the egg -- a reference my adult novel writing workshop students will recognize if they are reading! :)

    5. Which is to say, I totally agree with opening on the baseball like Vicki said... but I was just trying to demonstrate, how little it can take to up the punch. And maybe I'll share the egg story with you all next week, because it's a good one.

  2. This is such a gift! Ty Gae and Vicki. This is the beginning of a PB.

    Melvil and Maggie

    By Kathy Halsey

    Melvil and Maggie shared a cozy cottage. While Melvil read, Maggie crawled up the armchair and chattered along to the meow-velous sound of Melvil’s voice.
    At night Maggie slept scarf-like around Melvil’s neck, soaking up his warmth and his dreams.
    Life purred along, a man and his cat, reading, batting yarn balls, playing cat and mouse
    One day a lost feline found its way to their door, mewing to join the merriment. Melvil bright cat was “purr” bliss… two would be even better. And it was until…

    1. Hi Kathy! Picture books aren't my specialty - so I'm a bit out of my element on this one - but I'm still going to try and be as helpful as possible. As you might be able to tell from my bio, I'm a sucker for a cat. So if a picture book has a cat in it, I'm already interested! I love the idea of a picture book about a cat and her human and a potentially rogue second feline who upends their lives (at least that is what I assume is going to happen!). You can already picture Melvil and Maggie asleep dreaming the same dreams. And I definitely want to know more about this new feline who has found his or her way to them. What I'd love to see a little more from in this one is what makes each of these cats as well as their human unique. Remember, you might not get that many words in a picture book, but you can do a lot with it. Also I would be careful with your cat puns, one or two well-executed ones can have a pow factor (I love "one bright cat was "purr" bliss" so much), but if you have too many it can have a dampening effect. I give my authors this line of advice all the time with regards to similes actually. In short, the bones are there, you just need to flesh them out a bit. :)

    2. for a picture book, I love the line "at night Maggie slept scarf-like..." because it will make a lovely illustration to tie the story and pictures together for young readers!

    3. Vicki, I thought I had commented yesterday, but this was quite helpful. I do go overboard w/the puns and need to get my defining characteristics down. TY so much for your expert advice and time.

    4. Keep working at it! It'll get there before you know it!

  3. Hi Vicki,

    Thank you for spending time with us today. Also, thank you for your tips (I made two revisions to my chapter book manuscript opening after reading them:).

    Here goes:

    How is this fair? Three on one!

    Three Phantom players have me surrounded. Their wildly kicking their feet and the only thing they’re hitting are my legs. Ouch! I don’t think any of them even hit the soccer ball.

    When you get three guys on ya’ someone must be open. That’s what Coach always says during practice. So, I look around the field and he’s right, Jimmy Walton is open. As I kick a perfect pass to Jimmy, I push the three Phantoms off me and run towards the goal.

    “Jimmy, right here, I’m open.”

    Jimmy delivers an awesome pass that lands a few feet in front of me. It's just the goalie and me. Looking to the left, I kick it as hard as I can into the right corner of the goal.


    Ten seconds left in the first half.

    I help up the goalie, who dove to his right, and flash my trademark three fingers on one side and two fingers on the other side “V” sign to my mom sitting in the stands. It’s really a sign between my dad and I, but he’s at work. It comes from Mr. Spock’s salute that means, “Live long and prosper.” To me, it means, “I scored a goal.”

    “Two goals in the first half of the season. That’s awesome!” says Christy during halftime.

    1. Gotta love the give and go. Coach was right. :)

    2. Hi Andrew! So glad I've already been of help! I know nothing about soccer so I'm just going to assume you got all that right. ;) In any case, a soccer player who throws up a live long and prosper sign has my attention. I need to know more about this kid! But, you need to get your readers to this new aspect of him or her a wee bit sooner. I would launch right into the action kind of like this: "They have me surrounded. Three Phantoms players wildly kicking their feet and the only thing they’re hitting are my legs." This way the action will feel more immediate and fast paced, it makes for a more satisfying pay off when the goal is scored. And remember, show don't tell. We know the coach is right because Jimmy is there waiting, we can connect that on our own. You just concentrate on the great action and its pay off. :) Trust your readers to do their jobs while you do yours, it'll make for a much cleaner opening and get us to that V sign that piques our curiosity all the sooner. Because clearly this kid isn't just all about sports.

    3. Thank you, Susan and Vicki!

      I am off to make revisions. I'm feeling really good about my main character because I must have got the point across that he is much more than just sports and that is the story.:) This story is intended for an audience of children in third to fifth grades that love sports, which is most kids. I want the story to show them that their is more to life than sports.

      Thank you again.

  4. Hello Gae and (gulp) Vicki,
    Here are the opening paragraphs of a YA realistic fiction about secrets and forgiveness that I am currently writing. Thank you so much for visiting Gae's blog to read our paragraphs!

    There is a train. There is a train, and it is so loud, but I can’t see it. There is a train, and it is so loud, but I can’t see it in the inky black of night. But the night isn’t inky black. It’s violently twinkling like I’m in light speed, with Hans Solo and Chewbacca in the Millennium Falcon. I’m in light speed, and there is a train somewhere, that I can’t see, but I hear it roaring up to me, and I am in the middle of the road.
    I am sitting in the middle of the road, my left leg awkwardly bent in half underneath my hips. Something warm and sticky is on the side of my forehead. I instinctively reach up to touch it, to feel if it is water or – blood? Is it blood? Whose blood is this on my fingertips? Maybe the train is in my head as the soundtrack to the rapidly blinking lights that signal I’m still in light speed. Where am I going? Why am I in the middle of the road? Maybe this isn’t blood. What else could be sticky… Is that screaming? I try to make my brain listen to the screams , to blot out the approaching train so I can figure out who is screaming, but all I keep thinking is, where the hell is Harrison Ford, and why isn’t he saving me?

    I miss the days where I didn’t rush everywhere, almost always sliding into a meeting, or a baseball game bleacher, just under the cusp of raised eyebrows and the “you’re late” look. I mean, it’s totally my fault – not that I like admitting that at home, but it’s true. Balance is the furthest thing from my life these days as I routinely drop the juggling balls of work, home, kids, and husband. Which is why this whole request from the varsity coach to come to tonight’s game just pisses me off. I have enough to do without having to go sit in the grass swatting at mosquitoes while I watch the high school baseball team, the team that Alex assumes he will be a star pitcher on next year when he enters high school, play their last home game. Maybe I’ll just drop him off and leave – go run over to the food store and grab some stuff…except that I’ll never get a parking spot again by the school. So I might as well stay and grab dinner in town on the way home. Yes, Mexican. I want a burrito, dammit. So what if it will be eight o’clock at night before we get home to eat, and I’m supposed to lose thirty pounds. At least someone else will be doing the cooking.

    Where is she? Just once, could she put me first, before work, and get here on time? Fuck. The rest of the team is going to be out there already – laughing and joking around, and the coach is going to watch me walk over, by myself, late. Always late. It’s not like I can drive myself anywhere, so it isn’t even my fault. But I’m the one who will pay – not her. Coach isn’t going to go tell Ms. Perfect to run five laps. Why can’t she just be one of those moms that stays home and drives her kids around town in a big SUV. That would be awesome – especially when I’m hungry. Like now. I will go ape shit crazy if she says we are having broccoli and pasta again for dinner. I need real food, like meat. Or a burrito. Yeah… a steak burrito. Maybe I can convince her to order in town after the game.

    1. Secrets and forgiveness! Two of my fave themes to find in any novel, YA or adult. Immediately you have a lot going on here in a really great way. We are introduced to some very distinct voices (no easy feat to make voices sound different in multi-POV books, trust me). Alex's voice particularly is very on target. Readers are also introduced to a lot of questions to keep us interested. What's happening to the character in the opening? Why is Alex's relationship with his mom so problematic? A few notes, I would break these up paragraph wise, especially the opening. It is too confusing to read that as a block. And, less is more in a chaotic opening, I would simplify it a bit. Gae could probably give some great advice on that front. Her next book has a very chaotic opening. Also, with YA it is rare to see an adult POV. Whether it's because people just aren't writing them or because it doesn't work, is unclear. But it might distance you from teen readers. I would consider taking out the adult POV. Ultimately you have a lot of great stuff here, you just need to dig in and get to the root of it.

    2. So, this feedback is particularly fascinating because I was going to talk to Lisa about just this next week in class...but didn't want to do it until she got more grounded in all the voices. It will also be a convo about tension vs. stakes which I don't think I fully understood until Jim pushed me on TMOT!!!

      Having said that, I agree that Alex's opening voice is spot on and so compelling, and as far as Lisa goes, Lisa, keep writing FORWARD because I can help you to ultimately figure this out. And none of it will be wasted.

    3. Thank you so much Vicki and Gae! I DIDN'T THROW UP, YAY!!! I 100% agree about the adult POV in a YA novel - I have only seen adult characters as minor voices in most YA. I think as I write forward, the adult voice will fade as another character enters the chaos to join Alex. Thank you both!

    4. :) You'll find it becomes easier and easier to show your work. Keeping on sharing and working hard. You might do the writing, but books are a team effort at the end of the day!

  5. Thank you so much for being here today. This is such a big help.

    Jessica ’s alarm clock screamed at her to get up for the first day of a summer vacation she had not asked for. Just because her parents were having marital problems didn’t mean they needed to ship her off to New York, to relatives she didn’t even know. Thirteen years had gone by since she had last seen her aunt and uncle. She had been four at the time when they had come to visit her parents in Florida. The visit had been short. Her dad never spoke of his sister or her husband after their return to New York. The only thing she knew was they had come to America from Germany four years after her father, and her grandparents had arrived six years later. These facts or lack of them made her parent’s decision to send her here even more mysterious.

    Her aunt and uncle had been very accommodating, spending three days showing her around New York City. She had seen the Empire State Building, a Broadway musical, and visited the Statue of Liberty. Nothing had prepared her for the emotions she felt when she saw the Statue for the first time, or the look on her aunt and uncle’s faces as they looked to Lady Liberty. They tried to explain to her what it was like when they saw the statue for the first time and understood the freedom she stood for. That was all the insight into their past they gave her. They diverted or ignored any questions she asked them. Since no one spoke about their former lives in Germany, she was determined to get some answers.

    Jessica dressed quickly, choosing a pair of denim shorts and her favorite American flag tank top with the words, “America Rocks” emblazoned across the front. After eating breakfast and going over her schedule with her uncle one more time, she left for the bus, promising her aunt she would try to enjoy herself. She was still angry her parents had sent her to an art camp instead of her usual swim camp. After all, she was the captain of her school’s swim team, not an artist like her mom. Art camp involved visiting museums all over the city for inspiration, which would culminate in the creation of an art piece in a medium of her own choice. She hated having something forced upon her.

    Her first museum was the Intrepid, a floating museum. She wondered what type of inspiration she could gain learning about ships and planes. Her aunt and uncle were excited this was her first museum, so she promised to keep an open mind.

    Jessica stepped off the bus and walked toward the sign that said, "Art Camp" in bright artsy lettering, where the instructors were busy pairing up students. From the minute Jessica paired up with Miles Johnson, he dominated the conversation. He rattled off all the information he could about the museum; making it obvious, he was a frequent visitor. He was the type of kid she avoided, the know it all that had to tell it all. His knowledge of the aircraft carrier and the planes that graced her deck was unending. As the group lined up to enter the gates, Jessica noticed a concrete slab covered in graffiti. She tuned Mile’s information dump about the slab out. As they passed it, she stopped, brushed her hand across its rough surface and commented, "What an ugly piece of art." Her world began to spin and she felt herself falling, then everything went dark.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Hi Sandra! There is so much here to be interested in! As a reader I want to know more about Jessica's family, I want to know they sent her to art camp (which wasn't the obvious choice for her), and I want to know more about this Miles kid. You have a lot of wonderful set up here. I'd love to see you break this up with some dialogue to bring readers into Jessica's world in a more accessible way. Like, I would love to hear Miles get all nerd-tastic about his aircraft carrier knowledge (readers can't help but love a nerd-tastic boy go on and on about his favorite things). Little things that like would more fully ground readers in the work - and in Jessica as a character - before whatever unexpected terribly interesting thing happens that changes everything. And with that, readers will keep turning the pages! :)

      (And yes I did totally just delete this because I found a typo and then reposted... #editorproblems)

    3. Thank you so much. I will try your suggestions. It is much appreciated.

    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Such a gift you two are to us: Gae and Vicki. I will share the first three poems of my young adult verse novel (which I have sent to some agents this week!) and would love feedback on as much or as little as you can manage with the beautiful demands of this Friday Feedback. Here it is: Alone Together.



    I knew he’d come,
    he’d be the one
    because Mom’s always at church
    these days
    because he’s always in the garage
    these days.

    I knew he’d be stoic
    as he shook the hand
    of the police commander --
    a 6’ 6” Santa Claus
    with a badge and
    life lessons for Sadie:
    “Do you know
    who you want to be?
    This is just the sort of
    thing to sideline dreams.
    I’ve seen.
    And for a dress?
    Let me tell you, my dear,
    you'll wear it once,
    then it'll sit in your closet --
    my wife will attest.
    I see it all the time --
    Seductive stuff,
    but life is not in stuff;
    joy cannot be found in,
    what? Cotton and sequin.
    Teens around here gotta get
    out of their suburban bubble
    and see the world.
    Keep tellin’ my son.”

    I think I see Santa’s blue eyes twinkle.

    “Lucky for you, it’s my last day.
    Retiring, going on the road.
    So no charges.
    Just return the dress
    and make better choices.”

    Not a word from Dad,
    not a stern look my direction,
    not an eyebrow raised
    because that’s just his way,
    living inside his

    Nothing moves him,
    except Simon and Garfunkel,
    except Gregorian Chant,
    except plans gone awry,
    in his garage.

    We walk toward the
    old, beaten down
    station wagon--
    the only car
    in the suburban
    police parking lot
    at ten o’clock
    on a Monday.

    “Got a few bucks for gas?” he asks.

    "Sister Sadie"

    The only one of eleven

    who sets the table every morning
    with cereal bowls and spoons,

    who matches mounds of socks
    without complaint or disdain,

    who obeys every stand, kneel, sing in mass
    without sneaking out after communion.

    The only one
    who follows the rules,
    who keeps the peace,
    who has a chance at
    joining the convent
    to make her old Italian grandmother

    without proper punishment,
    without penance or consequence,
    without a way to assuage the conscience:

    Destined-to-Go-to-Hell Sadie
    (or at least confession),
    which is okay because
    I like boys too much to

    "Silence in Numbers"

    No one is home.
    No one.
    Every one works.

    #1 at 26 teaches music lessons with her baby on her hip.
    #2 at 25 manages a restaurant while training for triathlons.
    #3 at 23 waitresses while in nursing school.
    #4 at 21 busses tables while in college.
    #5 at 20 changes oil while in college.
    #6 at 18 is in restaurant management training.
    #7 at 17 runs a drive-thru while in college.
    #8 at 16 bakes croissants.
    #9 at 15 used to sell clothes.
    #10 at 14 and #11 at 12 babysit.
    Numbers that just don't add up.

    Only Dad does not have a job.
    Fired five years ago,
    he has
    delivered packages
    until he didn’t,
    remodeled a neighbor’s basement
    which is still not finished,
    designed a truck with storage compartments
    that already exists.

    So he is making a wooden canoe
    in the garage
    to one day drift on rivers of bliss,
    while he’s been at “work,”
    one through six have departed,
    and seven through eleven
    (or canoe).

    1. It makes me so happy to see a verse novel on here! I am a big proponent of there being more YA verse novels in the world. :D These three introductory poems are very evocative and specific. They introduce us to your main character in a hugely effective way that I love. Even just "Destined-to-go-to-hell Sadie" tells us who she is, or at least who others view her as, and because of it, who she views herself as. As a reader my curiosity is sparked! In terms of notes, at least on this little bit here, I would just take time to read aloud to yourself (a good note for all really), and make sure it all flows naturally, and get rid of anything that sticks out while reading. But, truly, so much good here! Good luck with agents, I'll cross my fingers for you!

    2. From the moment I read these I thought they were stellar.

    3. Thank you for your responses. I've only been reading verse novels for the past two years. My junior high students cannot get enough of them -- the white spaces on the page make the textual demands so accessible, but the language feels sophisticated to them. There is just such a sense of accomplishment and readerly identity shaped when students read (and finish) verse novels. And when I wrote a poem for our 30 poem challenge in April, I saw one poem in particular had a story around which I wrote this novel.

      The read aloud advice is just great (and I think I will invite my husband to join)!

      Thanks again, Vicki and Gae!

    4. Well, keep on writing! Verse novels are needed and I want more of them!

  7. Thank you so much for doing this! Your tips were really helpful. Here's mine!

    “Grandpop, I think you need to rest. Do you want me to get Granny? Or Dad?”

    I didn’t say, “Or Spiderman? Or the Pope?” But I would have been willing to go anywhere, get anyone, to get out of that room. He didn’t answer, just kept breathing those fast, raspy breaths. He sank his head back into the pillow, and then turned his face to the closed blinds. I waited a minute, and then started backing out of the room, toward the light and noise of the kitchen.

    But before I could take more than a step or two he turned back toward me. “You can get it, boy. You can get that gold. For me.”

    I had one hand out behind me, groping for the doorknob. “Ok, Grandpop,” I said. “I’ll do that, ok? Box of gold in a cliff. Got it. I’ll, um, get right on that, sir.”

    He didn’t say anything. But when I opened the door all the way, and he was hit with the light from the hall, I could see that his face had that bitter twisted look that I had seen in pictures. It felt like he was disappointed in me, like he hated the sight of me. But maybe the light was just too bright after all day in that gloomy room. Who knows, I guess.

    “Bye now, Grandpop. I’m going to get Granny, ok?”

    I didn’t wait for an answer. I backed on out and left the door open a crack behind me, like it had been when I got there.

    He died the next day, in the morning, before I got up. And maybe he had worn himself out on me, because when Granny, and then my mom and dad, went in to talk to him, he turned away and only grunted. So I guess his last words were to me, which was weird. Especially considering the actual words were, “Get the gold, boy. For me.” What do you do with that? I’m no expert, but shouldn’t last words be profound, or something? Like, “the secret to life is…” or “I wish I had eaten more vegetables…” “Get my dream gold from an imaginary cliff” is not what you expect, in the last words department.

    1. Hi Frances! Okay, this last paragraph made me laugh in a really great way. Which makes inclined to like your main character quite a bit. :) (Wry humor is one of my favorite things.) A few notes, the mention of Spiderman and the Pope are also funny but can make readers think that the main character would travel anywhere to help his grandfather, when really it is that he would travel anywhere to avoid the current situation (though he obviously loves his grandfather). And one is a much sweeter sentiment. I'm almost willing to say sweeter would be better on that end of things? Or perhaps he can't handle be in the room because it hurts too much? I would just be careful with wording here. In any case, moving on, the key to all of this is the mysterious gold. I'd love to hear the grandfather murmur some more about this gold. As yet, the main character add the cliff part himself, when it should be coming from his grandfather. This is the last thing he is ever going to say, he needs to make it distinct and important. And it clearly is, but the main character needs to get a greater sense of urgency from it, even if he doesn't believe it's a real thing. Overall, very intrigued, I just recommend fleshing out the bits that are clearly taking the rest of the story somewhere very, very interesting indeed!

    2. Thank you so much! I actually just recently axed a couple of introductory pages - might need to put them back! It's weird how you can get too familiar with the story, and forget that readers come in without all the backstory that's in your head! 😂 Thanks again for taking the time to help all of us. It's invaluable!

    3. I tell my authors all the time that just because they know something, it doesn't mean I do! :)

  8. Hi Gae and Vicki,

    Thanks so much for taking the time to give of yourselves and your talents! Here's my beginning.

    My name is Cora Alden. Well, not officially. My real name is Claire Oleander Rae Alden, but I like Cora for short. It combines all the best parts of my name into one tangible handful. Claire is for my great-grandma, a strong woman with deep roots grounded in family. Oleander is for the fragrant and colorful flowering bush that graces the landscape here in southern Virginia. Rae, I'm told, is for the sunshine that streamed through the window the day I was born. Mama chose the spelling with the 'e' at the end so that people wouldn't say I had a boy's name. And Alden, well that's my last name, but it's a perfect one at that. It means, "old friend". Don't let the beauty of my name surprise you, though. I'm so tough in the kitchen, people around these parts say I could fry a chicken and whip up a batch of buttermilk biscuits in no time flat. I'm sort of like those chefs that compete on cooking shows and only have an hour to completely prepare a mouth-watering three-course meal. I may be young, but I sure do pack a punch in the kitchen.

    My Nana has been living with us ever since G-Pop died two years ago on my 15th birthday. He just never woke up that day. He'd been battling lung cancer on and off since before I was born and he fought the good fight, but in the end, it was his time to go. We cried and cried till we couldn't cry any more, but then we laughed, danced, sang and cooked, because that's how G-Pop would want it. You see, G-Pop was the one who taught me to beat, whisk and bake. He taught me to blend, stir and fry. And he taught me how to make sure there were never too many cooks in the kitchen. He called that, "being the best with a taste test". I always thought G-Pop was nuts when he said that, but when he dominated the annual neighborhood cook-off AND bake-off year after year, people knew he was serious and gave him his space. I, of course, never gave him any space. In my eyes, his space was my space. G-Pop and I were like 2 peas in a pod and there wasn't any way I was going to let him bake, cook, saute or flambe without me. You could say I was his assistant, but he'd probably tell you that it was the other way around.

    1. Hi Rachel! I feel like I know exactly who Cora is and she is someone to be read about! I always say show don't tell, but this is one of those instances where some telling is okay because you are doing it in an interesting way with a heck of a lot of voice. Cora isn't talking to herself. She's having a conversation with me, the reader, and I want to hear what she's saying. What I'd love to see more of here - which, frankly, it might be right around the bend, I know this isn't a lot of content to provide - is a sense of what's to come. I'm what we have here is a YA novel where food will play a role (perhaps even the cook-off and bake-off where she does her G-Pop proud) and also Cora's Nana. This tell us exactly who she was and is, but give me a little hint of who she wants to be. But as I said, that could be in the next paragraph! :) All in all, a great voice and a great character people will want to read more of.

  9. Thank you ladies! These are the opening paragraphs to my mg novel. I got some feedback on this a few Fridays ago and this is the updated version.

    As Alice rolled in to her grandmother’s driveway, she ignored the kickstand and laid her bike on the walkway. Everyone said Gram and Alice walked the same way, as if they were the boss of the ground underneath their feet. Alice and Gram were in charge of everything.

    Alice knocked one time, as she always did, and then walked in through the front screen door. “GRAM! I’m here!”

    “Come on in, Chickpea,” Gram hollered from somewhere in the house. Alice stopped to put a wrapped candy in her mouth and went looking for Gram. She found her in the back room, sitting at her desk going through boxes.

    Gram’s house was a living museum of her travels. Gram said that even when she wasn’t moving, her gypsy soul was all a flutter. Gram moved 7 times before she was 5 years old. Now that she was 84, she wasn’t moving anymore but she often got lost in her collection of items from her travels. The basement walls were flanked with bookshelves that went from floor to ceiling. Alice had seen other grandmothers’ houses where everything was neat and tidy and everything had a place. Sometimes those places were so organized they had special doilies to mark where things belonged. Not at Gram’s house. The bookshelves had books on them, for sure, but those books were not sitting straight and tall like soldiers. Gram had books leaning on their sides, more like tired old friends. Jars full of buttons and pennies squatted on shelves. Puppets, soldering kits, wind-up radios, puzzle pieces, nutcrackers, thimbles, acorns, old campaign pins, and more were stacked on random shelves. Whenever Alice looked through the trinkets, Gram would dive deep into a story about the adventures that led her to getting it.

    One time, Alice held up an old thimble. “What’s this, Gram?”

    Gram, her back to Alice, replied with her usual, “Well, let’s take a look.” Gram turned around and gazed at the thimble. Usually Gram’s eyes lit up and she started into a story. This time, she closed her eyes slowly as if trying to remember - or was it to forget? Gram opened her eyes, tenderly took the thimble from Alice, and tucked it into her pocket. “Oh dear, that’s just something to protect you from getting hurt.” She turned back around and continued what she was doing. That was the only story Alice never got. Even though Alice was only 8, she knew when not to ask questions.

    1. Awww, Meg, Gram reminds me of my Granny. <3 As far as openings go, this is really strong, you just need to cut a little bit of the fat. For example, in "Gram hollered from somewhere in the house. Alice stopped to put a wrapped candy in her mouth and went looking for Gram." I would delete the "from somewhere in the house." If she goes looking for her, we know she can't quite pinpoint where her voice is coming from. This is an insanely specific example obviously, but is a great thing to always consider throughout all your writing. But as a reader I'm very curious about this thimble and how it will protect Alice and what from. It also let's me know it is probably going to come into play sooner than later and probably before Gram and Alice are ready for it to. Also, I can tell Gram and Alice are both women to be reckoned with and I feel darn sure there is a heck of an adventure on the horizon for Alice, and your young readers are going to want to be on that adventure!

    2. Vicki, thank you for the feedback! Lots of wheels turning!

  10. Hi Gae and Vicki! Thank you so much for taking the time to read our opening paragraphs. This is YA contemporary lit about grief and acceptance. There will be a rat.

    I was having trouble loading my paragraphs here so I have put them in a Google Doc at this link:

    Hope this works!


    1. Derek, I really liked your piece. I know that is vague, but it felt real and raw and relatable. I was taken by your rat reference at the beginning. Nice touch.

    2. Vicki, here is Derek's excerpt:


      Rat Fact: Sensing that there is poison in something they are ingesting rats will stop consuming the item. If they survive the experience they will avoid it altogether.

      Human Fact: This does not go for humans.

      Funeral homes smell like ass. Well, flowers and ass. It is reminiscent of that distinct scent when someone takes a dump and then sprays tons of 99 cent store rose scented air freshener around the room. It is the scent of something sweet masking something horrible. In this case it is rug deodorizer and floral arrangements clouding the smell of decaying bodies. Granted they aren’t doing the embalming on the same floor as the viewing rooms, but that smell wafts throughout the halls. This scent does not remind me of my father. Maybe the dump and spray smell, but not this dead one. The scent that reminds me of my father is vanilla.

      Not because he was a baker or some sort of metro-sexual who liked vanilla scented Yankee Candles. Vanilla was his favorite vape flavor. My father was a heavy smoker when I was growing up, but when he was diagnosed with lung cancer he switched to vaping. Although no one knows the actual effects of vaping on the body he felt it wasn’t as bad as his Marlboro Reds - which for added nicotine boost he would snap the filters off the end of. Ah, yes. Breathe deep on that good old tar. Right into ya lungs ya varmint! Luckily for me he would smoke those outside on the porch. No second-hand smoke for this kid, but the vaping was a different story.
      Every so often we would be watching the Sci-fi Network and a cloud of vanilla smoke, excuse me, vape, would surround my head and that vanilla scent would invade my nostrils. I would look over at him on his Lazy Boy recliner without a care in the world puffing away on his electronic demon. The snaps and hisses of that thing always kept me on edge. By that thing I mean the vape although he would be in the recliner so often it had its own creaks and groans. Whenever he would take a huge pull on the metal tip it would make a sizzling noise. It was an exciting game. Not as exciting as seeing someone receive their cast iron platter with their fajitas at Chili’s. More exciting like it might blow at any second. The mouthpiece would never leave his lips.

      At this moment in time instead of sitting in our living room watching make-up artists make models into monsters with the verbena scent suffocating me I am sitting in the front row of a viewing room next to my older brother, Craig. Four years my senior we are both sophomores in our respective age of schooling. He in college and me in high school. We were never in same building together throughout our educational careers. We would always just miss each other by a year. We’ve always been close, but over the last two years since he has gone away to school we haven’t been as buddy buddy as before. Add to that the lavender haired new love of his life Kat and he barely has time to comment on my status updates which is rude since he is constantly posting pictures of him and Kat.

      There they are kissing in some park. There he is with a piece of her hair pinched between his upper lip and the tip of his nose acting as a lavender mustache. There she is acting all cute with his Xbox headset on. I don’t buy it. I know for a fact that she sucks at Call of Duty. Not because I play, but because Craig told me. She’s nice enough, but she did steal my brother away from me during a time that college had stolen him from me. It was a double steal. Is that a sport’s reference? Steal squared? That’s a math reference. Either way it feels like we are two degrees apart in a Kevin Bacon connection type situation. In his right hand he holds Kat’s hand (that was nice of her to take the two hour trip with him I guess) and in his other is my father’s vape.

      I hate that thing.

      That is the reason my father is dead.

    3. Ahhh, Derek, the trouble maker! (Kidding!) This excerpt made me laugh immediately and as a reader I knew - in a good way - you were making deliberate choices that were going to get me wherever you were going with your story. It's weird (which I mean as a compliment) and voice-y and very vivid. I can picture everything perfectly This is another one where my best advice is to read it aloud to yourself, exactly as you would have it read in someone's head, and then trim as needed. This is the kind of opening - and likely book - where it needs to be as tight as possible because it hinges so much on voice. The kind of book where even when something isn't happening (in an overt way) it will read as fast-paced because of that same voice. So, sharp, incisive line-edits will be your friend! Overall though, I would definitely read more of this. And I think readers will feel the same!

    4. I agree! Derek is not only a troublemaker but a student of mine and I adore this weird voicey start to this story. It was especially fun to hear him read it aloud in my living room -- and all the rest about tightening and edits WHICH IS SPOT ON are for LATER, Derek. During revision. Down the road. The part to focus on here is that we want to read more. Keep going. Blinders on. Forward! :D

    5. Yes, everyone listen to Gae about what part of your revisions should be done at what time. She is one of my best revisers. Truly. <3

    6. Thank you Vicki and Gae for your kind and thoughtful words (I regard weird as highly complimentary!). I will have your advice brimming in the back of my brain for later on down the line!

  11. Thank you Gae and Vicki!
    I appreciate the tips and your time and expertise!

    Here's my opening scene:

    The battle for the city raged on as she slipped down the fire escape and along the alley. The cobbled stones rough on her feet. The shouting of the intruders and armed forces at the end of the block echoed against the now empty buildings. The siege of the city lasted ten years with no clear winner. The outcome resulting in a lousy occupation of a desolate city by men who only wanted money and control of the trade routes. But what was left after 10 years of siege was an empty shell and people who moved more like shades of ghosts than beings themselves. What was left to control or rule over?

    Her guards were distracted, monitoring the entrance to her suite, so slipping away had been easy. Thinking her safe sequestered behind closed doors, none thought that the windows would be portals of escape for a queen. Why would a queen want to slip away in the night? When her people are not her own, there is no need for feigned allegiance when the walls have been breached.

    She knew her they would be coming for her now. The breach had to have been orchestrated by him. Him. With a thousand resources and thousands of men bound by a blood oath to follow his orders, he would never let her go.
    Her bare feet and dark clothes would cloak her identity. She was not as frail and fragile as the other ladies of the court. She was half immortal after all. The laws of men hold no jurisdiction over her. How stupid she had been, thinking there would be safety in a city across the sea. She had grossly underestimated her estranged husband. His pride would never her let her go. But she was determined to weave her own fate.

    Hiding in the shadows she stayed along the side of the building and slipped away from the violence and fire at the end of the alley. The tunnels would be her way out. Two blocks. She could make it the two blocks to the entrance.
    A shout. A shout from a above. A helmeted head out the window.
    Her lead was now extinguished.
    They knew she had escaped.
    Valuing speed over subterfuge, Helena sprinted towards her freedom.

    1. Hi Kate, I really liked this one. I was drawn in right away and liked the idea that the queen was sneaking out. Personally, I would like to see a little bit more of the action sprinkled throughout. Show her hand on the stone wall as she peers around the corner or show her shimmying out the window, peering down at the dark city below. That kind of thing. Good luck with your story. It sounds really good!

    2. There is so much here to be intrigued by! I want to know more about, well, EVERYTHING. That said, I'd love to see a greater sense of danger. She is sneaking out and fears being captured by her own. She is also sneaking out in a war-torn city where the enemy is closing in on her. So, brave and half immortal as she is, she should be incredibly tense, fearful at any noise she hears, or even makes. There is an urgency to everything you have written here, don't be afraid to take it to that next level that can be so visceral for a reader. Help us feel what she feels. Elizabeth's note would actually be a great way to incorporate that. Perhaps the fire escape creaks as she makes her way down it, causing her to pause with her heart in her throat? (You will use much better words than I, but this might be a good example.) There is a lot of great set up here, let's flesh it out and make it sing (a dark foreboding melody)! :)


      Yes! Your comments make sense and the additional description would add value.

      Vicki, I forgot to ask in my original post: You advise authors not use "tricks," would you mind clarifying what tricks those might be?


    4. It's more that, I don't want to see the kind of tricks that make me think I'm getting something I didn't want. Like, don't have an opening where I think your main character is a stalker, when really he just feels guilty and wants to make sure the person I think he's stalking is okay. Because then I think, well, I didn't sign up for THAT book. Weirdly specific, but I'm trying to give a good example.

  12. Thank you Gae and Vicki for your feedback today! I've shared a version of this beginning before, but have tweaked it, yet again.
    The air around me is filled with voices shouting her name. Some are high, some deep, all are loud. As the temperature drops, the wind picks up, and the hair on my arms stands on end. My voice scrapes my throat raw as I join back in, “Lola! Lowwwwwwwla!” My cry is more desperate, high then low, rising then falling. It’s all I know.

    Somewhere a two-way radio crackles and the red and blue swirling lights bounce off the clouds, the rocks, the sides of the stone building. The shadows appear larger as they jump around, and the crashing waves provide a steady background, once rhythmic, now menacing.

    I’d do anything to hear my little sister’s voice saying her name in her small lilting voice, adding the question mark to the end the way she does when introducing herself to others. To have her slip her warm and sticky hand into mine, to laugh with her about the misunderstanding, to reassure her in the dark and chaos.

    If I close my eyes for just a second, I can picture her as she was earlier today, twirling in her ridiculous pink and orange party dress complete with fairy wings and tiara. I can hear her giggling as she landed in a heap of bodies after “Ashes, ashes, we all fall down”, not caring if she got grass stains on her frills or tulle, or dirt in her hair. I can imagine Lola twirling away, wand in one hand, crumpled pink napkin with sugar cookies in the other, distracted in her little kid way, or skipping off hand-in-hand with Mariko to look for more red flowers to kiss. I can even imagine her walking up to an unknown adult to charm her with a story about her imaginary pet pegasus and getting led away by the hand. But I CANNOT see her walking towards the edge of the lawn where the perfectly manicured grass transitions to shadowy ochre-colored rocks. Or stumbling over the terrain, clambering over boulders and falling into the relentless waves below. Lola would never do that. Couldn’t do that. But now that they’ve described the possibility, that’s all I can see. Over and over again as though I actually witnessed it.

    “Grace Ann!” A figure approaches me, arms outstretched and tells me to come back to the house, to the porch, to get some cocoa, to rest. They’re bringing dogs. Dogs. I avoid her grasping arms and face the ocean beyond the cliff, taste the salt on my lips, see the white caps in the distance changing from red to blue to red.

    How do you stop a search when she hasn’t been found?

    1. Well now I have to know what happened! Is there foul play involved? Did she just fall and her body swept away? Readers will be intrigued right from the get go. The biggest favor you'll do yourself on this opening is trim the fat. Kill those darlings, as they say. Be succinct and deliberate in your wordiness. Using a lot of words to describe Lola before the possible accident, let's us fully imagine this innocent little girl. But all the action would pack a more powerful punch with less. For instance, your opening paragraph would read much more powerful will a little chopping (at least in my opinion). "As the temperature drops, the air around me fills with voices shouting her name. The hair on my arms stands on end, my voice scraping my throat raw as I join back in, “Lola! Lowwwwwwwla!” My cry is more desperate. It’s all I know." I'm not saying you have to cut it this way in particular, especially as that was a quicky line edit, but in more suspenseful narratives, sometimes less really is more because it leaves it to the imagination of the reader. And people have a tendency to imagine far worse in our heads. :) Keep working because when you get it just right, this is going to be a stellar opening!

    2. Holy sh*t, Jen, you basically got a superspeed flash edit from my editor!! And she's spot on. And she's also right that we are intrigued. There's such a lovely haunting quality to your writing, so, yeah, less is more. <3

    3. Thank you so much! Back to the chopping block! You've done some fabulous flash edits for me in the past, Gae. They'll sink in. . . :)

    4. Again, this is all stuff for revision. So if you're still in the first draft stage, PLOW FORWARD. If we don't finish the book, there's nothing to revise. You've got amazing work in here and the revision process will make it pop and shine. <3

  13. Good morning Vicki and Gae,
    Thanks so much for the opportunity for feedback on likely the most important part of a manuscript. Your tips were very helpful. Looking forward to any advice you have.
    This is the opening of my YA novel.

    Chapter 1:

    Loud sobbing was the only thing Heidi needed to let her know that her mom’s date, once again, had not gone well.

    That made the third one this month.

    Ever since her mom separated from Heidi’s dad last Memorial Day, there had been one round after another of getting her hopes up...only to have them dashed just as quickly. Not that Cassie wasn’t attractive for a 45 year old; nor did she lack a sense of humor and the ability to inspire witty and often deep conversation. And there wasn’t a shortage of men to take her out.

    No, Heidi just thought her mom was going about this whole thing all wrong.

    You know, in the movies, when a woman leaves a bad marriage. One where she was unappreciated and ignored. One where he forgot her birthday, often came home late from nights out with his friends, and never wanted to talk about her exciting job because he was unhappy with his?

    In those movies, the newly single woman goes out walking, trips and is caught by a handsome gentleman. They don’t exchange numbers, but of course happen to run into each other later at an outdoor cafe or Farmer’s Market. They realize they’re attracted to each other (as do the viewers), and plan their first date to an outdoor concert later that night.

    Of course, he’s a recent divorcee himself. With a son just a few years younger than her daughter. They are each emotionally ready for a lingering baggage. Obviously, since they’re in a movie, both are above-average attractive and look good from every angle.

    In other words, the magic of romance the second time around seems easy.
    In the movies.

    In real life, however, especially in 2017, the chances of this happening to a divorced woman in her 40s are slim.

    In this day and age, women usually go online to find their love connection. Like

    Well, going online “man shopping” is exactly what Cassie did...the first day after she moved out of the house she’d shared for 20 years with Heidi’s dad, Jason.

    And the familiar mournful sound coming from her mom’s bedroom told Heidi that the latest “Mr. Perfect” didn’t live up to the hype.

    1. Hi Sandy! The first four paragraphs of this are amazingly perfect for what I think you are trying to set up. Which to me, seems like a fun romantic comedy YA for the daughter even as she is really trying to fix things for her mom - a premise that promises to be a lot of hijinks in the best possible way! A few notes, the rest this excerpt gets a week bit to expository/preachy. I would shorten this up significantly and keep that feeling you gave readers when they started, which we find again in that last line - exasperation, but in a sarcastic, funny way. Heidi is someone whose voice you want to read more of. But the part about what dating is now doesn't feel like Heidi so much as a commentary on our current social times. Also (and this one is for everyone really), if there isn't a good, solid reason to mention a year, I would avoid it. You'll risk dating book. Overall, this has a lot of potential, and you should keep at it!

    2. You had me at "man-shopping". Too funny. Personal preference here, but I kind of want more of an insight into how the daughter feels about the divorce and her mom dating again. Is she relieved, but feel bad for her mom? Is she angry about the divorce?

    3. Ah, Sandy, this great feedback is giving me an idea. I have an exercise for you this week:

      I would love you to try writing this beginning chapter from Heidi's first person point of view. Just to see what it brings out for you...

    4. Like, I'm thinking "Mom's sobbing as she walked in the door was the first clue her date hadn't gone well . . " type of thing. Try it. Let me know what happens! :D

    5. Thanks to all of you. I've been struggling with which point of view to use. Excited to try 1st person and dig into Heidi's feelings a bit more. And great advice about losing the expository parts and take out the date. Trying to do too much at the beginning, it seems.
      Thanks again. Excited to get back to it.

    6. Gae is full of the best ideas! Definitely an exercise to try!

  14. Good beginnings are so hard. Thanks for the tips, Vicki! And thanks for bringing Vicki to us, Gae! Happy Friday! :) This is YA contemporary about a girl who's brother is home from combat in Afghanistan and suffering from PTSD.


    Everyone is worried about my brother. Not just worried that he sits home all day and never leaves the house but worried we’ll upset him if we say or do something wrong. So we tiptoe around, we close doors gently, and we talk in calm, soothing tones. But it doesn’t matter.

    Yesterday morning, I came up behind him and put my hand on his shoulder. He sprung up from the table, flinging milk and corn flakes into the air, spinning to face me. The veins in his neck throbbed and his eyes darted from side to side, up and around, his whole body on high alert.

    I put my hands up in the air and tell him, “It’s me. I just wanted to know if there was any cereal left.”

    “Here,” he shoved the box at me, straightened his chair, ran his fingers through his hair, and sat down again. But the spoon didn’t make it back to his mouth. “Don’t do that again.”

    1. Love this, Jen! Can't wait to read the whole thing.

    2. Hey Jen,
      Love the image of the milk and corn flakes, a good visual on a fearful reaction. Can't wait to find out why they have to tip to around him.

    3. Really love this, Jen. There's so much happening here, and so much to learn and feel about these characters. I want to read more!

    4. What an important and powerful topic! Your excerpt reminded me of Kate Messner's presentation at the ILA Sparks Lunch last weekend. Novels like this will be so important not only for the YAs who are directly experiencing situations like this, but also to build an awareness of the subject for those whose families haven't been touched by PTSD. Thank you for addressing this topic and from this excerpt, your words feel so real. This is a book that I would want to read from cover-to-cover!

    5. Good beginnings ARE hard! And I give you all so much props for putting them out in the world like this! But, back to the good stuff, your opening. :) First of all, I love that you picked a tough subject. This is the exact kind of book Gae and I talk about all the time as so necessary. We need our empathy builders! In any case, this is a wonderful, straightforward way to introduce us to two of your important characters, and especially to the brother, how he is reacting in even the most basic of situations, how altered he is both in action and the way he speaks to people around him. I assume you will also have sprinkled through the book little glimpses into how he used to be. One note, I'd almost love an even better sense that she isn't quite used to it yet. That they've been speaking quietly and in hushed tones, but at the end of the day, she falls into their old way of interacting and gets majorly spooked when she feels like he is a completely different person. That recognition that he may be her brother, but right now, he feels very much like a stranger. Does that make sense? Overall a strong beginning to what is undoubtedly going to be a very important book.

    6. Wow, that is a great push, Jen! YES!

      I love this so much: Yesterday morning, I came up behind him and put my hand on his shoulder. He sprung up from the table, flinging milk and corn flakes into the air, spinning to face me.

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  17. Wow - this IS amazing! Thank you so much for your tips on what makes a strong opening. They are very helpful! Here's the opening to a middle grade novel I'm revising:

    Dad must’ve been reading my mind because he turned the radio up so I could hum along whenever I felt sick to my stomach. Which was pretty much the whole way, and it wasn’t because of the truck bumping over the dirt road.

    What if the dog hates me? I thought.

    I don’t know anything about dogs.

    How am I supposed to train it?

    Will it bite?

    I wished I hadn’t said I’d try this. I got so tired of Mom and everyone blabbing about dogs that I finally said okay, even though I was positive a dog couldn’t help me. And double positive I couldn’t do anything to help a dog.

    I turned the radio up louder.

    Dad glanced at me. “Almost there, Ayla. We’ll take it slow.”

    He’d met the dog kennel lady before when he did some drywall work. I knew he’d gone to a lot of trouble to make a special arrangement with her. That was the only reason I didn’t scream at him to stop the truck. That, and also I knew how desperate he was for this to work. Mom too. The miracle dog cure.

    I turned the radio down a notch and faked a smile.

    1. This is really interesting to me because on one level, it is a simple opening about going to get a dog. But, on another level, it's obviously so much more than that. I love the hint that this is more than just a trip to get a dog, that this is a trip to get a dog that could change her life in a huge way. It makes the reader curious, you want to turn the page (so to speak) so you can figure out exactly what the dog is expected to help with. Just one note, I would simplify your opening two sentences a bit, break them up a bit more. The first one isn't actually confusing but it can read a bit confusingly, if that makes sense. (Or at least it did to me.) Like, "Dad turned the radio up, knowing that when I felt sick to my stomach, I need to hum along." This isn't necessarily the right iteration. Gae will be the first to tell you that I like writers to use their own words. I'm mostly posting it so you'll understand what I mean by making it less confusing. Overall though, an intriguing beginning readers will be curious for more of!

    2. Andrea, just wanted to add that I love this little gem:

      I was positive a dog couldn’t help me. And double positive I couldn’t do anything to help a dog.

  18. Good morning, Gae and Vicki! Thank you so much for taking the time to comment on our work. It is beyond generous of you. I am submitting my beginning via my Wordpress account, as it is a bit long. Please read what you can/want to and comment. Any words of advice are greatly appreciated.
    I'm hopeful that the link is live, if not, I will submit directly. Let me know. Thanks!

    1. Vicki, here is Susan's excerpt:

      The cottage had been built in 1958, by Northwest Specialties of Elk Rapids, but they didn’t add running water until the year before Sarah’s first summer there ten years later, when she was six. Prior to that, everyone bathed, did dishes, and washed clothes in the lake. Drinking water was collected from the nearby spring, and it was clear and cold and magical. Running water was a cause for celebration, because that meant a toilet. No more traipsing into the woods to use the Bear Trap, which was what they had named the outhouse years before. These details were not part of Sarah’s memories, but part of the collective memory of the lake.

      The lake holds these collective memories still today, and it will continue to gather each tale, hold and keep it until someone digs it up from around the fire pit to be scrutinized and shared by the circle. They are the nuggets of lore that have been contributed to over time by those who have come and gone over the many years. Each contribution painted in the perspective of the contributor. Each colored in the circumstance, familial filter, and lens of those who shared their stories around the fire pit. It is this collective memory that muddies the water between truth and myth.

      “I truly believe that some of these stories have been repeated so many times, that we have just come to believe they are true,” Nancy reached for a chip from the assortment of happy hour delights that covered the table on the porch.

      “Lake Legends,” Laura quickly and alliteratively coined the phrase that accurately described the phenomenon. “I think they’re all bullshit. Like the one where Grampa Mertz pulled out a gun and shot a water snake while we were all swimming. No way! I think I would’ve remembered a gun at the lake. Especially if someone had fired it in front of me.”

      “Grampa was Detroit PD before he retired, and slept with a pistol under his pillow up until he died. It drove my dad nuts. Dad was worried that us kids would get into it. We were forbidden to touch it, but we would sneak into his room and look at it every once in a while. So there absolutely was a gun up here,” Margy confirmed. “Text Tom and Betz, they’ll tell you.”

    2. Hi Susan! This had a huge nostalgia factor for me. It reminds me of stories I used to hear growing up in tiny town Texas! Likely everyone has a crazy story in their family history, regardless of where they grew up, that this will remind them of. So, unexpectedly a really great way to have readers feel personally invested. A few notes however. The first two paragraphs can front load it a bit. I almost feel like you should make those a separate chapter or prologue where it is almost like the house or lake is its own character, the keeper of memories. Then, I would begin and end in Laura because she is immediately a stand out character to me. Her and Margy's differing ways at saying the same thing, play off one another nicely, but Laura is the spice in this opening. "Lake Legends. Such bullshit." would be a great opening (after the aforementioned prologue or chapter of course). I couldn't help but get specific on this one because there is great stuff here, it just needs a little shifting around to give it the forward momentum your readers will need. Keep at it, and it'll get there in no time at all! :)

    3. This is "RUN WITH IT!" advice:

      "... where it is almost like the house or lake is its own character, the keeper of memories. Then, I would begin and end in Laura because she is immediately a stand out character ..."

      Keep going!

  19. Thank you Gae and Vicki. I realize this may be too sparse, but maybe that's something I need to work on. I really wanted to stick to being brief for the sake of anyone who is reading. My beginning:

    Some people say it was a serial killer; a maniac who collected the bones of children. Someone they could never catch in an hour on that Criminal Minds show. They’d need a “to be continued” episode at least. Some people said it was kids who ran with the wrong crowd, got into something they weren’t supposed to.

    Some people thought it had something to do with the ANP corporation just up the Merrimack River. Like the kids somehow found out something they weren’t supposed to know and the ANP bosses wanted to keep them quiet, so they kidnapped them, or killed them, or sold them as slaves.

    Maybe it was that the kids were just bored and ran away. Too much video games, not enough reading. Uninvolved parents, distracted parents, parents who cared to little, parents who cared too much.

    The truth was, nobody knew.

    1. Nels, what an intriguing concept! I'd like to know which theory the narrator thinks is true!

    2. Never worry about being spare. Especially about something meant to build suspense, it leaves more to the imagination. And, that said, I'm intrigued! I don't know what's what, and I mean that in a good way. You have your readers wondering what happened and what comes next and also who these kids are in the first place. One note, you have two different possibilities in your first paragraph and one possibility in your second. I would cut out the second reason in the first paragraph. Or give it it's own paragraph and flesh it out. That way you can keep your possibilities separate and each one just as possible and important as the last. Make sense? Keep writing, readers are going to want to know what happened in this one!

    3. Thank you, Andrea and Vicki. Your feedback and guidance is greatly appreciated.

  20. Dear Vicki and Gae,
    Thanks so much for doing this. I seem to have trouble getting this to post so please forgive me if suddenly you get numerous copies of the same post.
    Thanks so much for doing this. What a treat for the rest of us! I'm posting a bit of my current WIP which is a YA. I shared just a snippet of this a few weeks ago.
    Thanks again for your feedback and best wishes everyone.
    Frankenstein? Totally get that dude. I know what it’s like to be put together.
    Hearts. Lung. Liver. Cornea.
    Parts, hand selected, inserted into my body to keep me alive and well.
    They said it couldn’t be done.
    They said it shouldn’t be done. One person getting all those organs, at once.
    But when you’re the president’s daughter, the rules don’t apply.

    Dr. Sloan sets down my journal. “Maze, when I gave you this journal it was to record your feelings about the shootings and the transplant.”
    “I did.”
    “Frankenstein? Really?”
    I pick another chunk off the blue stress ball she gave me when our appointment started. “He was created, same as me.”
    She stops twirling the pencil in her hand. “Maze, you received some organs; you weren’t created in a lab.”
    “Plus the media’s calling me Frankenstein. They’ve even given me a Twitter hashtag. MazeFrank. Catchy uh?”
    She sighed. Dr. Sloan has the best put-out sigh. A ten second inhale followed by a twenty second exhale. I imagine it’s taken her years to perfect it. I look at my watches. Two minutes.
    “Maze, why are you wearing two watches?”
    “I always do.”
    “I know and we talked about this. You’re to wear one watch.”
    “No, you talked. I didn’t agree to anything.”
    She moves her ample frame around the desk. “One of our goals is to free you from this obsessive need you have to be aware of the time.”
    “You can’t be free of time.” I chuck another chunk of blue foam to the ground.
    “Your treatment…”
    I look at my watches. “10:30 a.m. Time’s up.”

    1. This is intriguing! I feel like I walked into the middle of something important. I really liked all the small details that show her obsession with time. I wondered if the doctor would call her "Maze" or her full name. "Maze" sounds like a nickname. I would definitely read on to find out more!!

    2. I love this. And I want to know why she has an obsession with time. What is she waiting for?
      I am curious why she needed all these organs at once. Accident? Terrorist attack? (President's daughter...) So many possibilities.

    3. Fabulous. This is paced well and isn't dragged down by unnecessary backstory or description. I'd definitely want to read on and think my students would too.

    4. I've never seen a premise like this before and am very curious to read more! You dropped in a lot of small specific info that people will want to find out more about. President's daughter. Shootings. Two watches. You give information but allow your readers to ask questions - the why and how, etc. - that lead to the turning of pages. And you did it without bogging us down in too much information immediately (brava!). Andrea had a great note about the name Maze. If it is her actual name, then godspeed, but the odds are if it is a nickname, her doctor would not use it that freely. Keep working, this is clearly going somewhere very interesting!

    5. Thanks Vicki for your thoughts and all the other kind remarks everyone else. And yes, I'll correct what the doctor would be calling her. Again, appreciate the input.

  21. As soon as we leave the house, I start to worry that we have too much stuff. I pull a piece of hair out of my ponytail, and twirl it around my finger.
    “I hope nothing falls out. What if we lose things on the highway?”
    “No worries, we’ll seatbelt everything, starting with…. This… very…..beachy piggybank?”.
    “You can never be too prepared, “ I answer hiding the dish soap I've packed under my beach towel. Aunt Kiki laughs and says, “Well, one of us is prepared, I’m not even sure I’ve packed the sunblock.”
    "No problem, I’ll light up your bag with my flashlight."

    1. This made me laugh. You can tell right away what kind of people - at least in terms of preparedness - Aunt Kiki and the narrator are. Curious to know where they are headed. To me this reads like the start to a great novel about going away for a summer, a time when the narrator will learn to let loose, in a way hasn't been able to bring herself to do. (Hopefully because of a romantic interest to entice all readers!) This feels easy, in a good way, like you could just fall into the read. Keep writing, you might be taking us on a journey we really need to relax (just like your narrator!). :)

  22. Good Morning -
    A huge thank you to Gae & Vicki. Here are the first two paragraphs of my WIP.

    I am a daydreamer. I lose myself in my thoughts so much that my dad and grandmother are constantly telling me to get my head out of the clouds. Today is no exception. I am surrounded by a cacophony of voices and laughter as customers weave in and out of the shrubs and trees and flowers of my family’s nursery. Miniature American flags line the walkways and stick out of plants that are strategically laid out in rows of Geranium reds, Sweet Asylum whites, and Morning Glory blues for the July 4th holiday. It’s always one of the busiest days of the year at my family’s business. The property is teeming with customers pulling carts full of plants. Squeaky wagon wheels crunch and roll haphazardly over the crushed rock walkways and meld with the hypnotic song of cicadas that sound like a million tiny maracas.

    I pause in my inspection of annuals I am supposed to be deadheading to watch a family shopping together - a mom, dad, and two kids. I watch fascinated as the mother ruffles the boy’s blonde curls. I wonder if my mother ever touched me that way? I wonder how they’ll spend the rest of the day. They’ll probably have a picnic in the park and watch the fireworks from a blanket spread under the night sky. My best friend Jen says I don’t get what a regular family is like that I romanticize it. She’s probably right, but when you don’t have something that’s what happens. I wonder how my life would be different if my mom hadn’t died when I was three. I long for what I don’t have and mourn the loss as if it were fresh and not years old. I grieve for someone I don’t even remember and the sadness overwhelms me.

    1. Hi Georgia! This is great because it gets at what the core of your character's main journey likely is: dealing with what has clearly been a significant absence in her life, that of her mother. That said, I'd love to see this revelation strike her in a more forward moving way. Let readers hear the dialogue between a family shopping together, something that would make the main character wistful, then sad, then full of ache for a mother she didn't really have a chance to have. I would also hope right into things. "Today is one of the busiest days of the year at my family's nursery. And here I am, day dreaming again. The property is teeming with customers pulling carts full of Geranium reds, Sweet Asylum whites, and Morning Glory blues for the July 4th holiday." (This is just an example of what you could do. You have two great paragraphs of set up here. But use them to do some showing. She is day dreaming and misses a customer's question. Another family of customers makes her think of her mother. Etc. Exploring what's here in a more active way will take this to the next level in a great way, allowing your readers the chance to latch onto your character. A lot of good here, just need to explore it a bit more. :)

  23. Hi Gae. Hi Vicki. Thanks for doing this for us. This is the opener to my contemporary romance, tentatively titled, Silver Bells Are Ringing. (finger crossed this actually posts this time.)

    It wasn’t the dazzling one-point-five carat, emerald-cut diamond engagement ring blinding her — or the handsome man propped on one knee, peering up at her with hope shining in his eyes — that gave birth to a ball of pure dread in Laney’s belly. No.

    Well, perhaps maybe a smidgen. But the rest could surely be attributed to the fact that from the moment she awoke that day, all her carefully laid plans in life — more specifically her career goals — had been blown to smithereens. We’re talking completely and utterly annihilated in that spectacular Silverman way she was so infamous for.

    That promotion she’d been gunning for? Gone. Given away to an associate who didn’t have even the slightest ounce of aptitude for marketing in the least, let alone the leadership skills needed to head an entire department. Skills, which she possessed in spades. Then, to compound the devastating blow to her ego, she’d gone off the rails and quit her job. As in quit with a capital Q. Her. Miss Laney “I’m-Going-Places-So-I-Can-Be-Somebody-Important” Silverman. Well, she was going places, alright. Job hunting. Starting tomorrow.

    The whole affair left a sour taste in her mouth, and now she was staring at the man she’d been dating for three months and he was proposing. To her. Had he lost his ever-loving mind? What ever happened to keeping things casual between them? Just sex and company for dinners and movies and shit like that. Damn! Didn’t he know it was sacrilege to eff up a good fling? Why’d he have to go and screw things up?

    Her gaze cut from the man, to the ring, and back to the man again. She gulped. “I don’t know what to say.”

    1. A female protagonist after my own heart! And something tells me her wants and needs are going to get a heck of a lot more complicated before they get any simpler. And now of course I must know what she says! I would love to have a little bit more of him in this opening, or their relationship initially, so as to have a bit more of a stake in his feelings as well. Maybe even just the exact moment when he proposes and her stomach drops, in the bad way. :) There is a lot of good material here to set up the novel, and you have a great voice, now we just need that immediate emotional connection, even it's the main character thinking "oh god no no no no not this!" Does that make sense?

    2. Thank you so much! I appreciate your encouragement and suggestions. By the end of the first scene, the heroine discovers (mid-proposal) that her father has died, which drags her back home and brings her face to face with her true love, the fiancé she ran out on in her early 20’s.

    3. Just chiming in to add that I adore your superstrong first paragraph. That well placed No at the end. . . good stuff!

  24. Here is the opening to my middle grade fiction

    The cold slices through Darrell’s dark green sweatshirt. He wishes he had a second one to put over the one he was wearing. He misses the one small air conditioner that Mama turns on if there was a heat advisory for a few days. The constant assault from the vent above his bed is a persistent reminder of the cold reality that faces him in the days ahead. He buries his face in his thin pillow to avoid looking at his surroundings. Everyone has gone to the TV room and he can hear the faint arguments about the basketball teams that are playing on whatever channel they watch. It makes him wonder what Jay and Lamar are up to. Are they shooting hoops in the park? Do they wonder where he is? Do they know? He flops over and stares at the grey, cement ceiling. A buzzer sounds. Dinner. 5:00. He isn’t hungry, but he knows by now it isn’t optional. He drags himself to his feet and follows the slow shuffle of feet to the cafeteria.

    He picks up the beige plastic plate and takes a small serving of something that resembles spaghetti and meatballs. As he puts the large spoon back into the sauce, he drops his fork. The metal clangs against the flimsy tile and Darrell bends down quickly to pick it up, not wanting to ask the guards for another one.

    “Move it along kid!” a voice from behind him bellows.

    “Sorry,” Darrell mumbles.

    There are a few open seats at one of the tables in the corner, so Darrell slithers into one of them and eats his food without looking at anyone. He realizes how long it has been since he engaged in any kind of conversation with one of his peers. A week. Today marks one week. Seven days. Seven days of waiting. Waiting for someone to tell him what is happening.

    1. Well this is intriguing! I can't tell if he is in some sort of mental health facility, or a juvenile detention center, or some sort of holding facility to be placed with foster parents or something. But readers will definitely be curious for more. You did an excellent job giving us a sense of his life before wherever he is at now via the air conditioner feels he has. A few notes... the first paragraph is a bit heavy. I would break it up into a few smaller paragraphs for more readability. Also - and this go to all you kid lit writers out there - I would avoid references that use the word "peers." It's just not a word kids would use to describe other kids. In this instance, you could even say it has been a while since he's talked to anyone who wasn't an adult telling him things he didn't understand. Or something like that. This is already really accessible for your main audience, but small tweaks like that can make it even more accessible.

    2. Thank you! Those are great suggestions! I'm going to play with breaking up the first paragraph. (Don't tell Gae... she wants me to write forward!!) And I never thought about the word peers, but that is completely true!! Thank you again!

    3. It is intriguing! And I'm proud to say this is another one of my students!!! I've only heard her read it aloud so didn't realize those paragraphs weren't broken up. That's what is great about reading aloud. I bet she put some space in there anyway... if she did -- if you did -- that's a clue to break a paragraph. I never get tired of that first sentence. Write FORWARD, Jessica!

  25. Good morning Gae and Vicki. Thanks for your time and attention! :) Below is the first page of a contemporary YA book.

    The light usually woke me up first. Though sometimes it was a noise. And sometimes it was just the fear of being discovered that snapped my eyes open before the sun came up over the horizon.

    Whichever one it was today, I woke up cramped and sore from sleeping in the front seat of our 2006 Subaru. Even pushed all the way back and reclined, the seat was a tight squeeze for my five foot ten body. I could hear my little sister Ruby’s quiet breathing in the back seat behind me, and my mom’s deeper breathing in the seat next door. Glancing at Mom, I was glad that she wasn’t awake yet as I’d woken up with a boner yet again, and it was embarrassing. I forced my brain to think about my hateful third grade teacher, Mrs. Kocher, and the problem took care of itself. There were lots of bad things about sleeping in a car with your mom, but my lack of privacy was probably at the top of the list.

    We’d left the windows cracked open a tiny bit to get fresh air, but they were still fogged up and damp from our breath over the last seven hours, so I reached out to draw a simple smiley face in the moisture. That was my reminder to try and stay positive, but it sure wasn’t easy.

    I glanced down at the scratched surface of my glow in the dark watch. It wasn’t quite six yet, so I decided to let Mom and Ruby sleep a little longer. The city didn’t open the public bathrooms in the park until six thirty, and though we liked to be in and out before anyone else showed up, we had time since we’d slept close by the park last night.

    1. This poor teen boy! What an awkward way to wake up! (Though totally realistic, so props for that. More realistic awkwardness in teen books please!) In any case, wow, this is an issue I don't see a lot of in teen books, so I'm so glad you are writing about it. Obviously they are homeless and living in their car - notably without a father figure - but why remains to be seen. And as a reader I definitely want to know the why and how he's going to navigate this as he goes forward. This is one of those openings I would go through with a fine tooth comb. Remember, show don't tell. If he has a boner, readers will know he's embarrassed to have one while living in a car with his mom and sister. Readers are smart, let them make the connections. Overall, a compelling start. Keep on writing! We need more books like this.

    2. Re: I agree with Vicki and decided to make you the owner of a superspeed flash edit! Remember, this is stuff for REVISION and NOT first drafts. Your first draft seems to be super compelling so far, and important, as Vicki says.

      Here's how much more your writing might shine if you pulled some of the passive writing out on revision, as well as the repetition (e.g. unneeded glances, and other tiny tiny things) out:

      The light usually woke me first. Though sometimes it was a noise. And sometimes it was just the fear of being discovered that snapped my eyes open before the sun came up over the horizon.

      Whichever it was today, I woke up cramped and sore in the front seat of our 2006 Subaru. Even pushed all the way back and reclined, the seat was a tight squeeze for my five foot ten frame. Ruby’s quiet breathing drifted to me from the back seat, and my mom’s deeper breaths from the seat next to me. I was glad Mom wasn’t awake yet as I’d woken with a boner yet again. I forced my brain to think about my hateful third grade teacher, Mrs. Kocher, and the problem took care of itself. There were lots of bad things about sleeping in a car with your mom, but my lack of privacy was probably at the top of the list.

      We’d left the windows cracked open a tiny bit to get fresh air, but they were still fogged up and damp from our breath, so I reached out to draw a simple smiley face in the moisture. That was my reminder to try and stay positive, but it sure wasn’t easy.

      I glanced at the scratched surface of my glow in the dark watch. It wasn’t quite six yet, so I decided to let Mom and Ruby sleep a little longer. The city didn’t open the public bathrooms until six thirty, and though we liked to be in and out before anyone else, we had time since we’d slept close by the park last night.

      p.s. most of us who write MG and YA tease ourselves for the amount of glancing, eye rolling, eyes darting, etc. in our first, and even second and third drafts! I swear to you, this doesn't say anything about your writing. Again this is all stuff to be caught on REVISION.

  26. Hello Gae and Vicki,

    Thank you for the opportunity to do this. This is the beginning to my contemporary middle grade novel, THE LION GUARDIAN.

    My feet slipped in the mud as I guided the cows to the grazing spot. Semi, my little brother, was ahead stomping his feet in the muddy puddles. The night’s rain had changed the color of the grass from a dry yellow to a light green and the air was fresh. The crisp scent of wet grass took me back to when I tended the herd for the first time. But I didn’t have an older brother to look after me.
    We arrived to our favorite spot and settled in for a long day on the savannah.
    “Semi, lets practice our spear throwing,” I said handing him my herding stick. I attempted to draw an outline of a lion in the mud with my finger. “Go ahead my little warrior. Show me your hunting skills.” He giggled and threw the stick nearly hitting the target. “Nice throw, little warrior,” I said motioning my head for another try. He is smaller than most kids, like I was. I had hoped to grow to the same height as the other boys my age but never did. I felt badly for Semi knowing what he had in store for him, as he gets older.
    “Tonkei show me the tracks again,” Semi asked. I shot him a smile and kneeled down to the ground. Pressing into the mud with the fat end of my fist I made paw-pad shapes. Then using my thumb I made four marks to resemble a lion paw print. Semi pretended to be tracking and hunting as I continued to make lion, cheetah and leopard footprints around a tree we were under. Semi was just about to catch an imaginary cheetah when the fresh smell in the air turned to the strong scent of urine. I looked up to see that the cows had stopped eating grass. They were jumpy and all of them were peeing. The muddy road turned into a river of cow pee. Oh no, I though. A lion was near.
    I scanned the savannah over to the woods just above the watering hole. Not there. I glanced to the dirt road that leads back to the village. But I didn’t see it. I spun around to check out the grouping of trees. But all I saw were the rear-ends of giraffes running away. Then I spotted her, a hungry lioness. Panic shot through my body. I didn’t have a spear for protection; all I had was a lowly herding stick.

    Carol Z

    1. Hi Carol! I love the attention and care Tonkei gives to Semi. Though now that a lioness has shown up - a hungry one at that! - I'm worried someone is going to get hurt in this scenario. Which, as terrible as that might be for the characters, is great for the story because your readers will be personally invested in how this works out and in these characters. You've done a great job giving us a sense of place in this one. This is another one where I would just go through and trim the fat. This has a really good heart to it, possibly some life changing action about to happen, and I'd love to get to the root of it. Anyway, great start, and keep at it! :)

  27. Thank you both for being here today. Here is the opening of my PB Carlton.

    Carlton steadied his gaze, whipped out his tongue, and leaped from his lily pad.
    Kersplash! Missed again!
    His tongue was too slow and his leap was too low.
    He was the last pick for Lilypad Leapfrog.
    Worst of all, his croak was a croon, so every night he sang alone.
    “Carlton, you’re not good at anything!” the other frogs teased. Carlton needed help. He wanted to find his brilliance.
    That night, Carlton crooned by the light of the moon. His song flowed over the duckweed…through the cattails…up to the tops of the cottonwoods. He thought and thought. Hmmm…maybe with a little work I could be brilliant at tongue flicking.

    1. Rose, I love this excerpt and want to read more! I love the line "He wanted to find his brilliance."

    2. Well as I said before, I'm a bit out of my element with picture books, but I'll do my best! And... This is adorable! I too love the line "He wanted to find his brilliance." It's just such a great way to put it. I really love that his story is easily relatable to any wee one who might also not be great at something, that they could still work hard and find their thing. Or that they might already have a thing. Great job! Definitely curious to see where his journey goes.

  28. Thank you so much for feedback! Gae, I just finished reading The Memory of Things! We need more books about 9/11. I like that you wrote from a boy's point of view. I sent this last week, but it is the only thing that I am working on at the moment, so I am sending again. I sent a few more lines though. This is a story I have had in my heart for 21 years, as that is how old my daughter is that we adopted. All the joys and pains of that process, all the identity problems that some face, especially girls. Here goes:

    The green linoleum floor is stained and pieces are torn out in many places. The midwife gestures “ssshhh,” and waves her hand. Silence is demanded. Alcohol, benadine, and a stale odor. The once white walls are yellow and peeling. A small boy with a big cut on his hand is waiting down the hall.
    The Tongan woman on the table in the delivery room is very young, just a child herself. She is beautiful, even in the pain of labor, the contractions, the sudden tearing. When Samena imagines her birth, the mother is Fijian, Samoan, Tongan, or Hawaiian, maybe Tahitian. There is blood. The midwife’s hand is pushing the woman’s stomach. There are no screams. A Tongan woman giving birth is encouraged to be silent.
    There are no painkillers, no fetal monitoring during labor. The mother’s brown skin contrasts sharply with the white-gray sheets. With cunning hands, the midwife guides the head out. With one last push, Samena slides into the midwife’s hands. The mouth is cleared, and Samena inhales deeply, and cries. The umbilical cord is cut, and another woman takes Samena to be cleaned. Her mother turns away.
    In the morning, they leave. Samena is wrapped in a thin cotton blanket that the hospital provided. Her cousin picks up her mother. He drives her to the edge of town and drops her off where the shacks are lined up. The shacks are made of ironwood poles; and the floors are covered with split coconut logs, several layers of coconut fronds, and woven mats.
    Inside the hut is another woman with a baby at her breast. They exchange a few words as her mother lies down with Samena.
    The next day, her mother leaves Samena while she goes to work at the bar down the street. The other woman feeds Samena at her breast and the other baby there. Samena hears chickens, and a tapping, tapping, tapping. Women are making tapa cloth. Sometimes her mother is there, and Samena clings onto her, but it is only to feed her. Her mother has the other baby to feed, and she needs to sleep. Sometimes she sees her mother smile, but only for a moment.

    When Samena starts to crawl, her mother wraps her around her waist with cotton cloth, and walks three or four miles to the bush. The bush is ghetto. The bush is shacks, no electricity, plumbing, or phones. Her mother’s mother is there, grandma, kui fefine, barely a grandma herself, for she was sixteen when she bore her first child.
    “Still sleeping with married man?” says kui fefine.
    “Can you take Samena for awhile, she is crawling now, and I cannot keep her?”
    “I have five other mouths to feed, and where will I get food for them and her?”
    “I will send money.” Kui fefine frowns.
    “Did you see that woman in town who is taking babies to America, you should talk to her, better life for Samena?”

    1. Wow! This is some really evocative writing! A hard task already mastered. :) But, you can feel a tad bit removed from it, like you are watching from a distance. I've love to hear Samena's mother talking to her. It'll give more immediacy to everything, like you are right there with her, and will draw readers fully in. We need to feel fully rooted in the life she has now, even if it is hard. So that we can also feel what this future life could mean. As a reader I'm on the cusp of being drawn in, and in with a little work, I think you could fully bring me and your other readers in. A great start, but more work to be done, and I think it's work you can definitely do.

    2. Also, I'm so happy you read The Memory of Things! <3

    3. Kay, YES, thank you! Just reading through the rest of these comments now. Thank you for reading! And yes to all Vicki says. I adore this piece as stated last week, and anything to draw us further in is a yes! :)

  29. Hello there, Gae and Vicki! I'm overflowing with gratitude for your time and input today!! Thank you so very much! Here is a section of my PB:

    It was opening night at the Talulaville Opera House. All eyes were on Ms. Tralala Terfuffle, the famous soprano opera singer.

    Ms. Terfuffle was tra la laaing up operatic mountains when suddenly….

    Bam! Slam!

    In walked Mortimer Moose, late and loud!

    His feet how they clomped!
    His mouth how he chomped as he babbled loudly on his phone!

    He stepped on toeses
    and bumped into noses
    as he shoved his way to his seat.

    Tralala Terfuffle bravely carried on.

    Her trills more daring! Her tra la laas more...tralalaly.

    Mortimer roared in laughter at Tralala’s trills.

    Beside him, a quiet voice spoke. It was Millicent Mouse.
    “Mortimer Moose! Please use your manners! The next time you enter a concert late, please be quiet.”

    Mortimer laughed loudly and his enormous antlers shook.

    “Opera singers don’t care!” said Mortimer.
    Soon it was the second act, and Tralala changed into a dress full of frills as high as she trilled.

    Her voice was a roller coaster!

    As Tralala reached for her highest note she heard a loud ca-runch from the audience. Mortimer was chomping through a bag of Chippy Chips!

    Tralala’s face grew red as Mortimer crunched and chewed.

    Millicent Mouse spoke again:
    “Mortimer Moose! Please use your manners!! The next time you need a snack, wait until the intermission.”

    Mortimer roared with laughter, shaking his enormous antlers.
    “Opera singers don’t care!” said Mortimer.

    Mortimer was laughing and his antlers were shaking. They snagged Mr. Fizzybottom’s toupee and tossed it high onto the chandelier above!

    Tralala trudged onward, reaching heights never heard before!

    Her voice skipped like a stone across water.

    The audience held their breath, hanging on every note when from the back of the theater there was a loud….


    Mortimer’s burp resounded throughout the theater.
    All eyes turned to Mortimer.

    Tralala stopped her trills, her face steamy red.
    She huffed and puffed in distress.

    “Get ouuuuuuuuut!” Tralala sang as she pointed to the door.
    The crowd agreed and pointed as well.

    1. This made me laugh! I definitely would not go to a performance with Mortimer Moose! :) So much of this is noise based, l'd love to see some more of that. Like giving him a distinct laugh that can be read aloud to wee ones in a fun way. And careful with unnecessary repetition. You only get so many words in a picture book, make them count. Overall though, this could be a lot of fun!

    2. ooo00ooh! A distinct laugh! Hmmm....*that's* interesting. I excel at distinctive noises. :) Thanks for the heads up on the repetition. Time to go read that again and see where it's repetitive. Thanks for the feedback, and for taking the time to comment on our work!

    3. Crystal, going to pull your excerpt down soon, since there's a significant portion of it here... <3

    4. *hangs head* Yes ma' I'll post a shorter snippet next time. *grins*

  30. Thank you so much for this amazing opportunity! Here is my opening:

    “What the hell is in the front seat of my car?” The garbage bag took up the entire passenger seat of the beautiful cherry red McLaren. Ryker turned and looked at his mom. She was leaning against the doorframe, her bikini cover up loosely thrown over her shoulders as she rushed to get to the door before him.

    “The bags of clothes you were supposed to take to Plato’s Closet last week. They can't stay in the garage forever!”

    Ryker turned, an angry sigh escaping before he could catch it with his clenched jaw. “Where is Plato’s Closet?” he asked impatiently.

    “Just down the street. In the mall with the McDonalds. Just take the bag in and they will check the clothes while you wait. You can keep the money they give you if you want.”

    “I have to wait?!” Ryker demanded. “Can't I just put them in one of those bins?”

    “Ryker!” His mom shot back. “Those clothes are designer! I'm not putting them in a bin!”

    Ryker shook his head, running his fingers over the back of his brown hair. Why it made a difference where the clothes went was beyond him, but he knew better than to try and win an argument about clothes with his mom.

    “I'm out!” He said, grabbing his keys and closing the front door. He would head to Plato’s Closet and then maybe grab some fries on the way to the gym.

    1. This opener gave me a really good sense of who the mom is and a little hint at her relationship with her son, whom I assume is an adult. I found myself trying to figure out why Ryker (cool name, btw) went to his mom's house in the first place. Does this errand she asks him to run lead to the conflict? Quick note, since we're in Ryker's POV, he probably wouldn't think about his own hair color.

    2. Well, I think Betsy here did my job for me! I agree with everything she said. :) As for more on my end, it's the great little details in this one that raise questions for me. Like his mom running around in a bikini cover up and selling her designer clothes. Like him driving a super cool sports car. Clearly they have money. So why is she selling her clothes? Perhaps they no longer have money? In any case, this opening raises questions and that is always a great way to get readers turning pages. I would try to give readers a bit more in your opening though as to where this is going, a hint really. Always good to hint at what to expect while also raising those questions!

  31. Hi Vicki -- Thank you so much for doing this (though, I bet right about now you're thinking, "what the heck have I gotten myself into?").
    Hi Gae - If this sounds familiar, it's because you've read it (though I am about 35,000 words past this now -- heading for about 80,000).
    Here goes:

    Joshua Benning’s last day in the Southern Connecticut Juvenile Detention Center is turning out to be one of his worst. A year ago, on his first night in “juvie,” three boys had attacked him. Josh broke the jaw of one and snapped the tibia of another. The third was walking away when the guards showed up. For not accepting the beating the other boys had planned for him, Josh’s sentence had been extended 90 days. The original welcoming committee is long gone, but in a place like the Southern Connecticut Juvenile Detention Center, there’s never a shortage of halfwit knuckleheads, drunk on testosterone, who want to take out their crappy childhood on someone else’s face.

    After 13 months in juvie, the hardcore long-timers all know about Josh. Even though he is only five-six and a little on the thin side at 130 pounds, he is quick with his hands and not bad with his feet. Every couple of weeks someone has come along who needed to learn the hard way that Josh Benning should be left alone. He has managed to avoid putting anyone else in the hospital, but he has not lost any of the fights he had been forced into — eight of them, to be exact.

    Every other resident knows this is Josh’s last day. This morning, it started in the cafeteria — a push here, a bump there. When someone “accidentally” dropped half of a bowl of cold oatmeal down his back, Josh almost took the bait. He lunged up off of the bench and spun around. Luckily, a counselor saw the whole thing, and Josh was able to keep his cool. As he watched the counselor escort the oatmeal dropper out of the cafeteria, he kept repeating to himself, “I just need to get through today; keep thinking about tomorrow when I can walk out of here.”

    The taunting and bating continued throughout the day. He found his favorite hat in the A-wing toilet. The bucket he was using to mop the floor of the hallway during afternoon chores was turned over. Someone slipped a note under the door to his room that told him he was going to have his ass kicked before he was allowed to leave juvie. (He didn’t bring the note to a counselor, but he did keep it folded up in his pocket, in case he had to try to prove he had been provoked.) More pushes and verbal abuse at lunch and dinner, but Josh was able to keep his cool throughout the day.

    Josh Benning’s biggest problem is his knack for always being in the wrong place at the right time. That, and he doesn’t like to lose a fight. A line of social workers, teachers, and counselors told his mother that Josh has “anger issues” and that she should find a way for him to channel those feelings, so she enrolled him in martial arts training. Unfortunately, Josh learned the moves but not the philosophy of martial arts. It made him a better fighter, but did nothing to curb his anger issues. By the time Josh was 12, he was well known to the authorities in New Haven County and had already spent his first night in jail. Now, at 15, he had spent the last 396 days and nights locked up and he is determined day 397 will be his last. Forever.

    1. Congrats on getting that far into a manuscript! Just a suggestion, but would it be possible for the above scene to start with the following sentence? In a place like the Southern Connecticut Juvenile Detention Center, there’s never a shortage of halfwit knuckleheads, drunk on testosterone, who want to take out their crappy childhood on someone else’s face.

      You have no idea how much I love this sentence. This sentence really drew me in and showed a ton of voice. From there, you could introduce the main character, tying in dialogue that grounds us in the presence, while still sprinkling in bits of the backstory without slowing down the story. Apologies if I've overstepped in my feedback and it doesn't jive with the story you're trying to tell. Good luck!

    2. Hi David! You aren't wrong! But I'm always happy to help. :) Also, who is this Betsy? She has great notes! No, but seriously, I am 100% on board with Betsy's suggestions here. I love the idea of breaking this up with dialogue to ground us and opening with that sentence (it really is a phenomenal sentence). That paired with what is already a really great voice is going to make this a really dynamic intro to your work.

    3. Thanks, Vicki! You just made my day. To answer your question, I'm a 5th grade teacher and a romance author with Soul Mate Publishing.

    4. Ah, Betsy is a double threat! Well keep on coming back to Friday Feedback! You give great notes. :)

  32. Thank you Gae and Vicki for taking the time to read and comment on our excerpts!

    Lizzie loved everything about her fourth grade class...everything except for dancing. She loved the cozy reading corner in the back of the classroom. She loved the baskets of books that covered nearly every surface in the room. She loved writer’s workshop time. But she dreaded the moment when Mrs. Lee stood at the front of the classroom and turned on her iPod because that meant that it was time to dance. As soon as the music started playing, Mrs. Lee expected everyone to stand up and dance. Sometimes, they shoved their desks out of the way and danced together, but other times, they danced alone beside their desks. Sometimes, they danced the Macarena or the Chicken Dance or (insert other dances). They even did some square dancing. Lizzie really hated square dancing because then she had to have a partner.
    Whenever the music started playing, Lizzie felt as though her entire body froze. She watched as everyone else bounced and swayed, but she just couldn’t join them. She couldn’t follow the moves, even for the dances that they did day after day. She was always a few steps off, no matter how hard she tried to pay attention. She especially hated YMCA because she never could keep up.

    1. Hi Jen! Past Little Vicki can SO relate to Lizzie. For real. So I might be biased, but I think this is a great start! This is something that so many kids are going to relate to, especially those wallflowers looking for a little something to get them away from that wall. In my opinion, this would be even stronger if you held off on the dancing a bit. Open with the things she loves and then go into the "except dancing." Either way, you are definitely going to have some young readers who are probably waiting for a book like this, one about a girl likely uncomfortable in her own skin, or physically unable to do these things. A book they can relate to.

  33. Thank you Gae and Vicki! Is anyone else in a panic today?!?! I've been working on this short snippet all week and it's definitely not where I want it to be. We talked about visiting places earlier this week to make our writing more real. I'm struggling because the trip I'm writing about is one I've done too many times, but I haven't taken this ferry in about a year. I will be taking the ferry again soon, so I think this beginning will change again in a few weeks. In the meantime, here's what I have so far. It is short because i'm not quite ready to move further with it.

    The low bellow of the ship’s horn rings into the open air. I left my car in line with all the tourist cars down below. I climbed the metal steps, walked through the air conditioned seating area, past the snack bar, past the restrooms, dodging children running between seats, and pushed open the door to the outside seating area at the front of the ship. I find myself one last seat on the outside deck. I’m surrounded by families old and young filled with excitement for their vacation time. There are four teenagers standing at the front railing. They are laughing, eating Twizzlers and taking selfies as our ferry leaves port. The breeze picks up and my hair is flying up and past my face, I quickly tie it up in a messy knot on top of my head. The salty air is welcoming me home as we head towards the island. This island, my home. With every breeze, with every rush of air, my past waves through me. The teens in front are still laughing. The one boy wraps his arms around the waist of one of the girls, teen “love”. Do you remember that feeling? The weightless feeling that fills your body when you love someone for the first time. Do you remember how nothing else matters? You’re too young to focus on more than one thing except that feeling. Seeing them makes me smirk and want to shake my head. A rush of air moves past me again. I see the island. My home. There is so much there, so much that I want, so much that I want to forget.

    1. Anne Marie, this is so wonderfully visual. It's as if you are watching a movie and the camera is panning through the ferry as we follow your main character, in a way that you can't help but feel is important. I would almost hold off on the part that says "This island, my home." That is insinuated by her "past waves through" her. And if you wait the word "home" will be so much more meaningful. This is a great start. Continue to feel it out as much as you need, but also don't be afraid to jump in. The beginning is always there to continue visiting. That's the great thing about writing, you are the one dictating how you write it. :)

  34. Eek....this is my first time actually doing Friday Feedback (I think. Unless I blocked it out...). Thank you Gae and Vicki!

    Brielle took a slow walk up the driveway to her house. She moved her heavy tote bag from one shoulder to the other in an effort to get her keys out of her pocket while simultaneously pulling her coat closer around her to keep out the late October chill. Glancing around the porch as she climbed the steps, she noticed two cars parked behind the house. Wait a minute- both of her parents were home? At 3:30pm on a Tuesday?

    She felt her pulse start to race. This could not be a good sign. The happiness of a few minutes before quickly deflated and she tried not to panic. Why were they home? They would not want to leave work early unless they absolutely had to. And if they had to leave early it meant that something awful must have happened. Her mind was racing, coming up with all sorts of possibilities for her parents’ early appearance at home. Was it Gavin, she thought? Had something happened to him while she was at school? Or maybe one of her parents was sick. It wasn’t like they were fired or something. What were the odds two people would lose their jobs on the same day? Right? Her mind raced with every terrible thing that could have happened to bring her parents home in the middle of the afternoon.

    She fumbled for her key and then struggled to turn it in the old lock. She did not want to panic, but her pulse was already racing. The last time both of her parents met her at home on a school day was the day her grandfather died. They had picked her up from school and taken her home before telling her that he had had a heart attack and the doctors had not been able to save him.

    The key finally turned in the lock. Shifting her tote bag full of books to her left shoulder, she pushed the heavy door open. She immediately noticed the silence. Where was Gavin and why was he not watching his afternoon cartoons? The television was always blaring when Brie got home from school.

    “Mom? Dad? Is everything ok? Where is everyone?” She tried to project a calmness in her voice but it did not seem to be a success. Her mother appeared in the kitchen doorway wearing a huge smile. “Everything is fine, sweetie. Come back to the kitchen.”

    1. Hi Sarah! Don't you worry, it's my first one too! So weird, right? :) But we are thrilled to have you here with us. This is another one of those great visual openings where I can really see everything as it is happening. And I'm so curious as to what her parents are going to tell her! One note, my thoughts hung on this: "The happiness of a few minutes before quickly deflated." So it made me curious what might have happened before this scene that was so happy for her. If it is just that she loves walking in the crisp October air - which I am a big fan of as well - then I'd love to see more of that in the first paragraph, give us a sense of Brie's joy that then comes crashing down around her as she thinks the worst. It'll make those worries read more powerfully to the reader so that we are on the emotional rollercoaster with her, further investing readers in whatever it is her parents have to tell her - good or bad. Make sense?

    2. Absolutely! Thank you! (It's hard to imagine that October air right now, isn't it? This humidity and heat is ridiculous!)

    3. It really is! I'm permanently melting. O_O

  35. Vicki and Gae,

    Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on our openings. After reading your description of what you are looking for in an opening, I am pretty sure I have managed to do the opposite! I will definitely be using that information and any direct feedback you can offer to revise it in the future.

    Nina peddled faster, the hot wind blasting against her face as if it were trying to drive her back. Her skin burned from the summer sun beating down on her, and her sticky, sweat-soaked t-shirt plastered itself to her. Still, on she went. Maybe if she went fast enough she would be able to escape the feelings boiling inside of her. She barely noticed the dry, brown lawns that whizzed past. They had become all too familiar after so many years of drought. She had made the mistake once of stepping on one in her bare feet. Now she understood why they were called “blades” of grass. It was a mistake she was determined not to repeat. Her spinning bicycle tires crunched through brown leaves that had dropped unseasonably from the neighborhood trees. All the plants, that had once stood green and welcoming around the houses, drooped as though they had finally given up. It was as if Mother Nature herself had recolored the landscape, making the only neighborhood Nina had ever lived in unrecognizable.
    Having reached her destination, Nina at last slowed down and hopped off her bike before it came to a complete stop. Her mother hated it when she did that. She would hate it even more if she knew Nina sometimes rode without her hands on the handlebars, which was exactly why Nina had no intention of ever telling her mother. Well, maybe when she was a grown-up and there was nothing her mother could do about it. Then she could laugh and say, “See, Mother, I had secrets, too.”
    But that wouldn’t happen for a long time. Today, Nina was on a mission. She was happy to see that neither of her parents was home yet. Her dad was still at work, of course, and her mother had said she had errands to run. Nina, fortunately, had been invited to her friend Ann’s house to go swimming, so she hadn’t had to endure the torture of shopping with her mom. Now that she had a few minutes to herself, Nina was free to do a little investigating.

    1. Hi Amanda! There is no one way to do an opening, depending on the story and type of book, the right opening can drastically different. Your opening might be exactly right for what you are trying to accomplish. All you can do is trust your gut and then try to use my points to make what you already have better. :) And, what you have here is quite good, there's this wonderful momentum to your first paragraph and your second ends on an automatic mystery that makes readers go, "Investigate what?" What I'd love to see is that same urgency from the first paragraph continued in the second. Does she have a limited amount of time do this? What are the stakes with her investigation? You may get into this in the next paragraph, I'm just a big fan of asking questions to get writers to their next step. Overall though, you are on your way!

  36. Hi Gae and Vicki,
    Thanks so much for taking the time to read all of our posts.
    This is the opening for my middle grade novel. Thanks for the feedback!

    It was the yelling that got my attention. The house next door was not exactly a quiet one. Two boys lived there, but this was different. I stuck my bookmark in my mystery novel and scooted back on the porch swing to see what was happening.
    "Get off me. I didn't do anything- I told you that," my best friend Sean yelled, as he struggled in the grip of a police officer who had him by the elbow.
    "Knock it off, kid. You were caught. Keep moving."
    What did Sean do this time? His skateboard hung from one hand, and his leg was bleeding. The pair moved behind a pine tree, out of my line of sight. I stood up, not wanting to miss anything, the swing smacking the back of my legs. I lurched forward, grabbed the porch railing and leaned as far as I dared, trying to get a better look.
    "Mom, I didn't do it. You have-" The slam of the screen door and their dog Lady's barking drowned out Sean's next few words.

    1. Hi Lisa! I'm guessing our protagonist loves knowing what's what in the world around? That certainly speaks to my Harriet the Spy loving heart. :) In any case, this has me curious not just about what is happening with Sean, but what adventures your protagonist is bound to go on, by choice or entirely inadvertent. What might make this even stronger is moving things around a bit. Instead of starting it with "It was the yelling that got my attention," you should consider starting it with the actual yelling. Then your protagonist's ears perk up. Show it to us. Your main character is hugely observant, show us how something sparks in this character's mind as something to pay attention to, as something to hang out over a porch railing for. :)

  37. Hello Gae & Vicki - I'm so grateful for this wonderful opportunity. Thank you both for dedicating your valuable time and expertise to assist and guide us!!! This is the beginning from one of my picture book manuscripts.

    Alfred’s mom was worried about her youngest bird. His brother and sister love to fly and they fly very high in the sky. Alfred likes to stay in the nest and read. When he has to fly, he flies low and slow and takes short trips.

    His brother, Anthony, loves to fly high over the treetops and around buildings for hours. Alfred flies just above the grass tops and avoids everything.

    His sister Abbie twirls as she flies above the trees and always lands softly and gracefully. Alfred flies in a straight line and often lands with a thump.

    As the birds get older, mother bird starts teaching them to build their own nests.

    Anthony builds a messy nest in the highest tree branch he can find near the park. Abbie builds a large, neat nest on a high branch with lots of soft grass and she decorates it with colorful flower petals. Alfred builds a small nest on an old tree stump next to the farm. He is sad when his things begin to disappear.

    First, his apple core is missing. He is looking everywhere for it when he hears a black and white dog say, “Farmer Joe’s horse took your apple core.” Alfred replied sadly, “that was my lunch!” The dog noticed how low to the ground Alfred’s nest was. He asked Alfred, Why is your nest so low? All the other birds build their nests high.”

    Alfred told the dog, “I have a secret, I’m afraid of heights so I don’t fly high.” “What?” the dog said, “but you’re a bird, you are suppose to fly high.” “I know,” said Alfred but, I get dizzy and shaky and can’t do it. I’m going to keep trying though because I don’t want to be afraid.” “Well, good luck” said the dog.

    Over the next week, the dog saw the horse steal another apple core, a goat ate the grass from Alfred’s nest and a raccoon took Alfred’s favorite book and dropped it in the mud! As the dog watched Alfred sadly slump near his nest, he decided Alfred needed his help.

    “Okay Alfred, I’m going to help you. My name is Buddy, let’s do this!” “Our goal” Buddy said, is to get your nest up high so the animals stop taking your things.”

    Buddy and Alfred worked together. Buddy had Alfred practice flying to the first branch on the tree over and over. When he was comfortable with that he worked on the next highest branch.

    Things were going well until one day they tried the highest branch. Alfred got halfway up and looked back to smile at Buddy. That’s when he realized how high he was, got dizzy and swirled roughly back to the ground.

    Buddy said, “What happened?” You were doing great!” “ I just can’t do it” cried Alfred. “Yes you can” argued Buddy. “Don’t give up!”

    Just then they heard a cry!

    1. Hi Dayna! Buddy is such a good, new friend to be helping Alfred! I absolutely love the message of this one. It's totally the kind of thing I would see on my favorite two year old's shelf. You are off to a great start. What I think you need to concentrate on is making this a bit more succinct. You don't get a lot of words with picture books, so make sure all the words are words that count. I would almost cut directly to the nest building, and have Buddy think that Alfred is a bit of an odd bird for building his nest so close to the ground when he is a flyer. Then you can explore their budding friendship a bit more and uncover Alfred's embarrassment that he has a fear of heights. Just some food for thought! You are off to a fine start on this one thought!

    2. Hi, Dayna, I think VIcki's advice is spot on. Also, just the same note as usual with picture books. Going to pull them down end of tonight because there's too much of your story to leave up here. :)

  38. Thank you Vicki and Gae for any input! What a gift!

    Here is my opening:

    Dad has always fancied himself a field general. As the high school football coach, I used to revere him. I used to hang on his every word. l reveled in the combative language of the his favorite quote; a speech from General George Washington ready to deliver our country to freedom. The call to action. The honor of the cause. "Freemen or slaves." "Brave resistance or abject submission." And his favorite phrase which he made our family motto: "Conquer or die."

    He has the quote plastered everywhere. Over the mantle at home. On the desk in his classroom. And here, above the player's entrance to football field, in the same stadium that I used to follow him around as his starry-eyed son dreaming of someday being his star quarterback. His green and white sign hangs proudly, awaiting the game-day ritual when every player slaps it, crying out "CONQUER OR DIE" as we race onto our field of battle.

    With a thick paintbrush dripping in hand, I stare up at his sign. I've snuck in this morning to add my own sentiments to the quote. In huge red letters across his beloved banner I smear :


    1. Woah! What happened between these two (she wondered)? You've set up some great tension here. It makes me wonder if he didn't make the team, or if his dad replaced him on the team or something. Or maybe he didn't even want football at all in the end and his father doesn't get his other aspirations? I'd love to see even more tension though. You've got a great voice here, add some emotion to it. He just painted the word BULLSHIT! on the sign. Put a little anger in it. A little more sarcasm. What he is doing is a surprise to the reader, but the emotion doesn't have to be.

  39. First time sharing my writing on these Friday Feedback posts, so as is expected, a bit nervous. This is the opening for my most-complete novel ...

    It was a bright August day, and Olivia was at the mall shopping for new swimwear, beach wear, and any other summer clothing she could think of, as well as a few nice evening gowns. Sure she probably had enough already in her closet, but this trip coming up practically begged for a new wardrobe, and Olivia never turned down a chance to go shopping for new clothes.

    “Good enough for now,” Olivia told herself after her fifth store, her arms loaded with bags.

    After a quick stop at the local coffee shop for a double latte, Olivia made her way to the car and headed home. After unloading the car, Olivia sat at her computer and browsed the trip’s itinerary, double checking her lists to make sure she wasn’t missing anything. She then finished her last load of laundry and finished packing her bags as she was leaving in the morning for Miami. The last load in the dryer, Olivia made a quick bowl of pasta and sat in front of the TV to relax a bit when her phone rang.

    Checking the caller id, Olivia answered the call. “Oh my god, I am so excited for this trip!” she told Nick.

    “I know! It’s been forever since I’ve seen you.”

    1. Hello librarygirl! Don't be nervous. You've done it so the worst part is over! :)
      And your characters seem like they are heading off on a great trip (I'm a little jealous of them actually). You probably about to go into why Olivia is so excited (and Nick), and I'd actually love to see that a little sooner. Maybe Olivia could be reminiscing or thinking about not just her trip, but Nick - who is clearly an important part of why she's so excited about the trip. It'll get readers emotionally invested. They are already psyched for something fun, so get them excited about the trip in the same way Olivia is excited. And she's excited because she's going with Nick, who she hasn't seen in a while. Does that make sense? This could be an easy change to pump up your beginning that wouldn't change the rest of your book. You have a good start here, just give us a little bit more. It'll be a worth it! :)

    2. Vicki, thank you so much for your feedback. And yes, it makes sense. If I had given you more of their conversation how they met and their relationship would have been more understood, but I can also find spots to put it in sooner as she's shopping with your suggestion.

      I suppose that's the plus of sharing your writing I've been missing out on - someone having a fresh pair of eyes on the writing to give you better ideas on where to put scenes or introductions.

      Thanks! You definitely helped make a scary scene not so scary in my mind.

  40. Vicki, thanks for doing this even if you don't get to mine (there are a lot of posts already!). I'm working on middle grade fiction.

    1. not fulfilling or not expected to achieve the intended purpose or desired outcome.
    2. having no ability or skill in a specified activity or area.
    synonyms: futile, pointless, hopeless, ineffectual, ineffective, unproductive

    The whole stupid nickname that was ruining my life was my stupid brother’s stupid fault. I mean, maybe not technically, since he didn’t name me in the first place. But the nickname might have remained a family secret -- like the fact that you should not sit next to my dad at dinner if my mom has made her five-alarm chili – except that Ethan had to blab his big mouth to my teacher when he walked me to my classroom on the first day of kindergarten.
    “His name is Ulysses,” he told the teacher importantly, pointing to the manila tag attached to my Thomas the Tank Engine backpack, “but you should probably call him Useless.”
    “Surely not,” Mrs. Gartevan said, smiling. “Welcome to kindergarten, Ulysses. What a great name!”
    I chimed in, “My dad named me because my mom was asleep when the hospital lady came to fill out my birth certificate.”
    “Is that so?” Mrs. Gartevan chuckled.
    It was so. After my older sister Grace was born, my mother was wide awake and overruled Eustacia Vye, my dad’s top pick, named for some girl in an ancient book no one but him has ever read. Then when Ethan was born, my mother was perky enough to veto Aristotle, my dad’s favorite philosopher, so Ethan only got stuck with that as a middle name. But giving birth to me was some kind of two-day marathon, so my mother was totally wiped out when my dad, who must have been rubbing his hands in evil glee, wrote Ulysses on the birth certificate form instead of Shane.

    1. Hi Laurel! I admit it. I'm a sucker for an opening that begins with a definition. I just can't help it! But what I love most about it, is that, while a device, it wasn't used in a way I expected. I really enjoy this opening. It makes me curious, makes me laugh, and makes me want to spend time with their family. That said, I don't know that the definitely will be something you keep long term. It might be more of a jumping off point for this great section that has taken on a life of its own. There is a lot of good here, and I get a lot of insight into these characters from this brief section. Keep at it!

    2. Thanks so much for the feedback!

    3. I think the definitely was supposed to be definition... and I will fight Vicki to keep it long term. :) BUT the important stuff in her comment is that it was "unexpected", "made me laugh" and "it makes me want to spend more time with their family." I agree! Keep going. :)

    4. Yes, always feel free to fight for things! Gae does! :D

    5. Won't it be hilarious when the book sells, and the first thing the editor suggests she take out is the definition?!

      (I will cut them!) [[ grins ]]

    6. Thank you, Gae and Vicki. Let's hope I'm lucky enough to be faced with that dilemma. :-)

  41. Hi there! Thanks for taking some time to do this! I am curious what you think of the admittedly rough opening of my middle age non-vampiric slightly roadtrip comedy/adventure ... appreciate your time:

    My GPS confirmed it, I was on the road to hell with my brother trailing behind me.

    When we lost the bloodmobile I knew we were in trouble. My brother had always been a sucker for anything in a tight shirt. Leaving him in charge of the vehicle that kept us alive was not my best decision ever.

    I suppose I could blame my parents for being trusting enough to let us take the old girl out for a spin. When you are 18 forever, at some point you need to grow up: I had. My brother not so much.

    Now we were racing for our lives across the country. My brother Joe was sticking his head out the window. All he needed to do was howl to complete the image. I was consulting my GPS as it tracked the lifesaving o-negative. We were finally closing in.

    1. Well this is fun! Though I feel like it should be him trailing his brother on the road to hell because his brother is clearly the problem child here, even if your main character should have known better. From this, I'm obviously going to assume they are vampires, but because there is some dog-like imagery when it comes to Joe, I'm thinking maybe werewolves instead? In any case, I love the voice here, it's funny, sarcastic. (Sarcasm is one of my favorite things.) But I almost feel like you are giving too much away by saying they are racing for their lives. Pump up the urgency so readers feel something is terribly wrong, and then drop the racing for their lives thing a wee bit later on. I also think this would make a great first line: When you are 18 forever, at some point you need to grow up. With it you would immediately set up the kind of world these characters live in. Overall, great job, a lot of fun, but more work to be done!

  42. Thank you for taking the time to look at my manuscript for Mother's Best. It is being illustrated this season. I look forward to your comments.
    Mother’s Best
    Written by Wendy Gilhula
    Page 1:
    The robin stands on the edge of the nest.
    Mother bird does what she knows best.
    Page 2:
    She urges Robin on a quest.
    His wings know how to do the rest.
    Page 3:
    The wind combs through his proud red chest.
    The mother flies as Robin’s guest.
    Page 4:
    She sings her song of happiness
    While Robins soars into the west.
    Page 5:
    From the sky comes nature’s test.
    The robin leaves the empty nest.
    Page 6:
    Robin soars high to join the rest.
    He joins the floating V-shaped crest.
    Page 7:
    Winter’s chill fades, the sun is blessed.
    The flock flies far with little rest.
    Page 8:
    When Robin spies his mother’s nest,
    He turns to greet her sweet address.
    Page 9:
    While Mother roosts in gentle rest,
    Robin hears the emptiness.
    Page 10:
    He presses his head into her chest
    To find its peaceful quietness.
    Page 11:
    Robin stands on the edge of the nest
    And knows his mother did her best.
    Page 12:
    He follows the urge to join the quest
    And chases the far-off V-shaped crest.
    Page 13:
    He hears her song of happiness
    And wings know how to do the rest.

    1. Well first of all, I love that you have thought about this in a page by page way. It's important to visual, even if just in your head on picture books. And second of all, this is such a lovely story! I could easily see it in a picture book or board book. You are clearly off to an excellent start!

  43. Thank you for being here today. Below is the beginning of a memoir I wrote in grad school. It is something that I have always wanted a better eye to look at. Thank you again for your time.

    You were born on Easter, Maudalene Wharton Sullivan, the seventh Sullivan child. I am sure you were a beautiful baby. You were first a daughter and a sister, but later you would become a wife, a mother, a grandmother, and even a great-grandmother. But until then, you greeted your adoring parents, Ruth and Warren, with a magic twinkle in your eye.
    I was born in an ordinary Wednesday, Rachel Young Prater, the tenth Young grandchild. You said I was the prettiest baby you had ever seen. I was Ben’s baby sister and the final piece to my parent’s heart. Mama told me you and Papa came to the hospital full of joy and excitement to meet me. You held me and found all ten fingers, all ten toes, and an inherited twinkle in my eye.
    When you were a child your life was full of adventures Tom Sawyer would be jealous of. You were always accompanied by your older sister Sarah, and by that time, your younger sister Sophie. You and Sarah never ceased to find some sort of mischief, and Sophie never failed to tattle on you both. One afternoon, you and Sarah swiped an apple from a bowl set aside for that evening’s after dinner pie. You scurried like two squirrels with a newly fallen pecan under the house. To your dismay, your nosy little sister had witnessed the entire heist and followed you. She swore she would tell on you both unless she got a bite of the apple. You held out the loot and Sophie took a big bite. She bit not only into the apple but also into the plump tip of your finger. You yelped in pain and you all ran away from the scene dropping the forbidden fruit in the dirt. Sophie darted for the house to not hold up her end of the bargain and you and Sarah went straight up the nearest tree you could climb. You feared your Papa would switch both your backsides. You waited up in the tree for what seemed like a lifetime. Eventually you were greeted with scents of dinner on the table and the sight of fireflies dancing in the dark. You and Sarah just knew you were going to be up that tree all night but before you started making a nest to lie next to the neighboring birds; your Mama came to the base of the tree with two warm slices of apple pie.

    1. Hi Rachel! I love this apple pie section, it's a great way to introduce your readers to Maudalene as a person, and for all intents and purposes (though I know this is a memoir), as a character. It also sets up the dynamic between these sisters and what each of them are like. What I'm losing is the you in the intro. I'd love to get a little bit more of who this person is to you on a deeper level in a more immediate way. The "You were born" and "I was born" sections are really good, but can almost confuse the reader because we haven't met any of these people yet. They might be better placed a bit further down. What you have here is the seed of something that could be quite wonderful, and with a little love and care, will flower beautifully. :)

  44. This comment has been removed by the author.

  45. Thank you for your willingness to provide feedback on the opening paragraphs of a novel I am working on. The novel will have parallel plots with the grandmother's story unfolding through flashback as the grandson's story unfolds in a linear plot. Below are the first five paragraphs.

    Ruth curled the corner of the map laying on her kitchen table as she searched for the fastest route from New Orleans to Mississippi. From her seat, she could hear her grandson upstairs, walking back and forth. Every step made a creaking or banging sound as though he were wrestling with a sibling. But there was no one else there. The house was just old, the floor thin. She imagined Eric searching through his closet meticulously for the right clothes to pack—not too thin, not too thick, something comfortable and colorful and fun. He had always liked to stand out in a crowd. He was never much for being serious and never seemed to worry about anything. Ruth used to admire that about him, but now that it was time for him to leave home, she worried.

    Eric had laughed when Ruth asked him to find her old road map. “Grandma, the world has changed. We use Google Maps now. Look! I can just pull it up on my phone. It’ll even tell me if an accident happens. It will let me know if I need to make a detour.”

    Ruth glared at the phone with its shifting map and squinted. She didn’t trust the world’s changes. She wondered if this Google Map her grandson spoke of would let him know which areas had lurking dangers—the dangers caused by men’s hands. Ruth knew there were highways to avoid, back roads where the lynchmen lingered and waited, small towns where old men plotted against young men like Eric. She had them marked on her road map. She had marked them years ago when she was young herself and traveled to Jackson State University. Green highlights meant the path was safe; yellow meant take extreme caution. Areas marked with a red x were to be avoided at all costs.

    “Look, Eric,” she’d warned. “You’ll want to avoid Clarke County. It’s right here. See?”

    Eric had laughed playfully, giving his grandmother a big hug. “Aw, Grandma. I might go through Clarke County just to prove to you that this world has changed.”

    1. Hi Kionna! This is beautifully set up. Both in terms of the dynamic between Eric and Ruth and how they differ as well as the potential future conflict. I might be wrong, but I feel like there is a strong possibility something is going to happen on the road. Whether it be an actual danger or just his grandma realizing the world has changed, at least a little. And perhaps we get to see some of her past dangers since it is a dual narrative? I loved that paragraph particularly by the way, the one about dangers and maps. What you are going to want to do (once you are done only!) is go through and do a good line edit to catch things that might niggle a reader. Like in the first paragraph, the use of "thin" in two instances so close to one another. But, generally, you are off to a great start. Keep at it!

    2. Thank you, Vicki. I appreciate your feedback. I have been moving forward with this project slowly, but I am ready to pick up my pace a bit. When I started writing this piece, my initial intent was to write a short story. However, everyone who read it thought it as the opening of a novel. I have written another novel completely that I would like to work to get in print soon.

  46. A huge thanks to such a Dynamic Duo! Here's the start to my MG humor. Thanks again,
    Amy B.


    It all began when I stopped at the corner to browse through our neighborhood’s Pick-a-Book bin and found Marigold Madison's book, Cupcakes & Candy Floss.

    Usually I just find rubbish in there; you know, old magazines from the 1990s that no one wants to bother hauling off to the library, or tattered paperbacks that smell like moldy sausages, with their covers half falling off. But I’m a very optimistic person, so I double-checked the Pick-a-Book bin just in case someone was giving away a novel that was actually half decent and published within the last seven-hundred and fifty years.

    When I opened the top of the wooden box, a beam of afternoon sunlight bounced off a wonderfully purple-ish cover with specks of gold shimmering throughout.

    At the time, I didn’t know that Cupcakes & Candy Floss was from the Marigold Madison Icing Sugar series. In fact, I didn’t know who Marigold Madison was, period. But as I held it in my hands, I knew there was something special about her book. As an added bonus, the glittery paperback didn’t smell particularly bad, so I took it. I ran all the way home, sprinting past our neighbor’s yard with the truly terrifying Irish Setter named Flower.

    I read that first book in two hours and twenty-seven minutes and ordered her second book, Flights & Fairy Lights, as soon as I could find Mum’s Amazon password (which, for future reference, is on a yellow sticky located underneath the mousepad).

    1. Hi, Amy B.

      Sadly, I think you may have put your excerpt up too late to get Vicki feedback, and so you're stuck with me...

      You have so much delightful going on in this opening, and I am especially intrigued as to why this book about Cupcakes and Candy Floss is SO important to your MC. In fact, can you give us the tiniest hint? Drop in some little bit of tension? Eg. do the books lead her to doing something she's never done before BUT also lead her to trouble? The thing that will keep the reader invested along with the lovely descriptions, is this hint of tension up front. In fact, when I got to this, the way you describe it made me feel like it was coming, but it didn't:

      When I opened the top of the wooden box, a beam of afternoon sunlight bounced off a wonderfully purple-ish cover with specks of gold shimmering throughout.

      Is there magic coming? Heartbreak? Adventure? What? Let us in on the tiniest clue!

      Great stuff! Keep going.

    2. Oh darn it... "stuck" with you! LOL! As if!

      Agree. It's turned into The Peril of the Perpetual Premise. I will tweak to drop more clues for the reader. Thank you so much!

    3. Ha! I love the line about being published within the last seven hundred and fifty years! :) So far this seems super cute and I'm very hopeful this is leading somewhere magical! But even if it isn't, you still have a fun set up here. That said, I'd love to see you make us wait a little bit before she finds Cupcakes & Candy Floss, so that it really is this shining beacon of potential book happiness. Even have her interact with someone about her dissatisfaction. But so far I think you are hitting on the exact right level of humor and attitude with your protagonist and opening. :)

    4. And then Vicki will show up anyway... speaking of shining beacons!

    5. Thank you, Vicki! You're both beacons of light through my literary fog! {Too much? : ) }

  47. Hi all! I'm being brave at the last minute today:

    "Attention, Flight 4858 passengers to Atlanta: The plane will be delayed until 3:00 pm due to weather issues in Chicago..."
    Great.Another 3 hours.
    "Gramma I'm HUN-gree!"
    "I know, Baby. Let's see if we have more fruit snacks in the bag."
    The businessman glanced down the row of blue seats, and quickly looked back at his book. He wasn't annoyed by the little girl. He was amused. His bright blue eyes looked down, deeper into the pages, obviously avoiding an audible giggle.
    He caught the young passenger's eye.
    "My Gramma reads books," she crawled towards her fellow traveler and sat next to him.
    "Really? Do you read books, too? I'll bet you do," whispered the man.
    "I love Jon Klassen. Do you like the hat books? The hat books are the best. I like the one where the fish steals the hat..."
    Suddenly, Gramma didn't need food to keep her granddaughter busy. She smiled faintly at the man, who was fully engaged in a conversation now.

    1. Jen, since your excerpt went up late Saturday, sadly you're stuck with only me. . .

      I enjoyed this brief excerpt and love the engagement and surprise pleasure vs. annoyance of the businessman at the little girl's requests, and that he ends up engaging with her on book stuff that he clearly knows about!

      I'd say to open with the "Gramma, I'm HUN-gree!" and work the delay in after because it's the little girl's dialogue that catches the man's attention. So it could read:

      "Gramma I'm HUN-gree!"
      "I know, Baby. Let's see if we have more fruit snacks in the bag."

      The businessman glanced down the row of blue seats, and quickly looked back at his book. This flight had already been delayed for several hours. He wasn't annoyed by the little girl. He was amused. His bright blue eyes looked down, deeper into the pages, obviously avoiding an audible giggle.
      He caught the young passenger's eye.

      That type of thing. We don't really need the stewardess's dialogue because we all know these types of things.

      At any rate, I love that the businessman is not what we were expecting. Good stuff keep going!

    2. Responding just because I'm on here to say Gae's feedback is perfect! :)

    3. Thank you Gae, and Vicki (thanks! I know I was late. Busy week!) I love the dialogue opening. That helps. I wasn't sure about the "announcement" thing, so that's good - I don't need it. I will keep going! You are a great help, friend. Have a great week! Jen

  48. Oh what a long day. Someday it will make an amazing story! But for now here is the opening of my novel, Letty Goes to School. I hope someone is still able to read it.

    worries scurry around inside her clothes
    crumpling and wrinkling individual folds
    ravaging and reckoning all the untolds of a
    world spun by whining dreams
    cranked constantly by the evening cacophony
    of whispers, coughs and cocaine screams
    reared by the family of the shouldn't bes
    and neighbors, the never dos
    all the hypocrisies of heroin speech
    so much of a child to lose
    hair matted daily with adult anxieties
    and juvenile jeers
    lost somewhere are all those childhood cares
    of Barbies and boys games and toys

    If I die today I will only bequeath regret. I leave them misunderstanding and misdirected pain. They were only unfortunate enough to be born of me. True victims. My morning mantra. My worry wakes me then stills me. In the bathroom Will sighs, spits the toothpaste noisily into the now crusty bathroom sink. I study the cobwebbed ceiling, the peeling paint. Count the minutes it takes for the bathroom door to swing open, the scent of him swirling out. The sound of his disgust in slamming drawers, scattered socks and ties. I hold my breath as he moves throughout the house leaving on each light, cursing the time, the tie, this life. When the garage door closes I will cautiously rise and follow his trail, cleaning, wiping, straightening, ridding us of him before the boys wake.

    1. Diane,

      My editor finished all comments yesterday which was 24 hrs more than I asked her to do! So sadly you're stuck with me.

      I'm very curious about this piece you're working on. It definitely makes me FEEL and that is a great thing. I'm not sure what it is yet -- a novel that alternates between verse and prose? Or something else? If it's that is it told both in third omniscient or limited? The "her" in the opening verse AND first person? Is the her in the opening verse Letty? And also the first person Letty? If so, maybe clue us in. It's a tumultuous and difficult opening, so the small places you can clue us in may help. Maybe later it won't be "Letty" but some other clue (the color of her dress, something) but I'd like something as a reader to not feel totally confused, though I don't mind being mostly confused. I adore the last sentence of the prose. <3

      keep going. I am VERY compelled to see where it goes!

    2. Gae gives great notes! I may be done, but you can trust in her! :)

    3. Thank you thank you thank you. Prose opening. Chapters told by two main characters Lefty and her teacher. Poems by narrator voice throughout. I am so very grateful.

    4. So, I would just say, if this is the exact opening, ground us the tiniest bit. Believe you, me, I don't mind being confused some up front, but not so much that I haven't a clue where I am (meaning who I'm reading about). So simply give me a few tiny clues... or one tiny clue.

  49. Thanks for your time and the tips. I will definitely share them with my students. I'm also going to use them to jot a new beginning for me!

  50. I'd appreciate any feedback on this opening.

    Two teenage sisters in one house bring lots of drama. Three is almost unbearable, but four sisters? Natalie, Karen, Tori, and Frannie. And all of them in high school at one time? The drama never ends.
    Natalie was the oldest of the four. There had been an older brother, but he died shortly after his birth. So soon afterward, Natalie was told, that there hadn't been any chance to name him, and on his birth and death certificitate, his name simply read, "Aubrey, male infant." Nat had always wished he had lived so that she could have had an older brother, and that she would not have had to be the "oldest."
    Being the oldest was never easy. Especially with three younger sisters who had a habit of trying to get around the rules her mother and father had set down for the four girls. Natalie would just as soon sneak off somewhere with a good book to read, but it was usually her responsibility to keep track of her younger sister Frannie.
    There was four years difference in their ages, but Frannie was considered the baby, and she was always the center of attention anywhere they went. It didn't help that she had bright blue eyes, golden Shirley-Temple curls, and a cute little button nose. Nat hated having to drag her along when she went anywhere, especially if a cute boy she liked would be there. Frannie always seemed to steal the show.