Friday, July 28, 2017

Friday Feedback With Amy Fellner Dominy (& Nate Evans!): How Mean Can You Be?

Today on Friday Feedback, we welcome back one of my regulars, and one of the people I have learned most from in this biz, my dear friend and BVFE** Amy Fellner Dominy.

Amy is the author of several books, both Middle Grade and YA, including the Sydney Taylor Notable OyMG, and a new mystery-adventure-roadtrip-romance YA coming out in April 2018 called THE FALL OF GRACE. I've read pieces of it and it is amazing! She also has a picture book and then some, coming out starting this September! You'll hear a bit more about them below.

Please support Amy and all her hard work here today by checking out and ordering all her books!

When I was a little kid, I hated math. I thought it was mean that math teachers would spend so much time making up problems. Weren’t there enough problems in the world without them creating more for me to deal with?

The irony is that now I’m an author and one of the most important parts of my job is to create problems for my characters. (Apologies to math teachers everywhere!)  

It's true: I spend my days not just thinking up problems, but trying to ruin lives.

Today, I want to challenge you to do the same!

It doesn’t matter what type of fiction you’re writing, or for what ages. I write for teens, tweens, and toddlers and no one gets off easy.

For instance:

A worth-reading book!
In my young adult novel, Die for You, I gave Emma a boyfriend who will do anything to keep her with him. Even if it means killing himself.

In Audition & Subtraction, a middle grade, poor Tatum has divorcing parents and a best friend who asks her to mess up a band audition or lose her friendship.

I CANNOT WAIT to meet Cookiesaurus!
How about you?!
My first picture book comes out in September and it’s about an adorable dinosaur cookie fresh from the oven. Why would anyone create problems for a sweet cookie? Well, I did. In the story, Cookiesaurus wants to look better than all the other cookies, but the hands wielding the frosting have different ideas…to hilarious results (for everyone but Cookie, of course.)

Here’s the thing about problems: They keep readers turning the page.

And they also make your job as a writer so much easier.   

Without problems, characters have no motivation to act.

Characters, like people, only take action when there’s something they want. What makes a story dramatic is when they can’t get what they want. When there are problems standing in their way, and when those problems seem insurmountable.

Makes sense?

So let’s talk about your story.

First of all, have you created a strong problem for your main character? A strong problem is one that:

A. Cannot be solved easily;

B. Comes with dire consequences if the character fails to solve it.

Can you verbalize that problem and the consequence of failure?

If so—congrats and welcome to Club Mean. If not—what problem can you give your character? Brainstorm the ten worst things that could possibly happen to that person, pick your favorite(s) and get writing. Watching your character work to overcome their problems is what will make your story flow, and what will make your readers cheer (or tear) at the end.
For today, I welcome you to share a bit of your story, and if possible, find a moment where your character is confronted by a problem.

This is Nate Evans a/k/a bonus guest host author
of Friday Feedback today! 
And—a bonus for those of you working on picture books. As it happens, I’m meeting today with Nate Evans, the co-author of Cookiesaurus Rex, who is a NYT bestselling author/illustrator with over 40 picture book credits to his name. He’s agreed to join me in commenting on your picture book story submissions for a few hours this afternoon.  

I look forward to reading!!


For my excerpt, I’m sharing the opening of THE FALL OF GRACE, my new YA coming April 2018 from Random House/Delacorte. It seems especially fitting because the problem with this book. . . was the problem. It takes months for Grace’s life to unravel, but when it does it leads her on a journey. So how to tell the story? If I were to start at the very beginning, would there be enough conflict to keep you interested as a reader? I decided to try weaving together both parts of the story: Grace’s unraveling and Grace’s journey. It turned out to be much more challenging to write than I expected, but in the end I’m really excited about how it turned out. Chapter 1 begins with Grace’s journey and I hope enough intrigue to keep you reading. But you be the judge of that.

(Gae interrupts to say: If you are new here or have forgotten THE RULES to Friday Feedback, please pause now to read them at the bottom of any of these posts HERE, HERE, or HERE!!!)


An awning stretches above the doors to the bus terminal, blocking the sun but doing nothing to stop the sweltering heat. It’s a struggle to breathe, the hot air trapped and unmoving.
Like me.
Someone bumps my shoulder and I turn, tightening my hold on my backpack. But it’s someone in a hurry who doesn’t even stop. No one here knows who I am—I remind myself of this as breath calms. I’m not breaking a law by being here. I’ve been “asked” to remain in Phoenix. I’ve been “cautioned” and “advised” and “strongly encouraged.”
Not ordered.
My new hiking boots take me into the bus terminal. They’re Salomons and not new at all. I bought them at Goodwill this morning. I would have been squeamish before—used shoes? Please. But now I congratulate myself on my ten-dollar find. The fitted black tee and dark green pants are my own—bought for a trip to Paris and made of breathable, movable fabric with pockets down the leg. I’m a long way from Paris, but they’ll do. A white hooded jacket with wind protection is in the pack.
It can get cold where I’m going, even in August.

xox Amy (& Gae)
p.s. Amy is on a hike and I am off on a swim. We will both be back here shortly after NOON EST. <3 nbsp="" p="">

**Best Virtual Friend Ever, though we have, since the title stuck, become friends IRL too...

96 comments:

  1. Hi Gae and Amy,

    I loved this excerpt from The Fall of Grace. What works for me is all the questions it raises. I want to know who told her she couldn't leave town and why. There's a clear contrast between her life before with trips to Paris and her life now- shopping at Goodwill. That makes me wonder what's happened to her. She's clearly running now, and I want to know why. I can't think of anything that's not working. My favorite stories are the ones that raise questions for the reader, and you've done that, so yes, I want to keep reading.

    Here's an excerpt from the middle grade novel I'm working on. My main character, Andi, has just witnessed her best friend and next-door neighbor Sean being hauled home by a police officer. Andi, who wants to be a detective, is snooping and trying to figure out what is going on.

    Here's the excerpt:
    I tiptoed down the steps and sprinted to the white pine in Sean's yard, climbing up a few branches, a better angle for eavesdropping and the spot with the best view of the front door, something I know from previous experience.
    "Officer, what's going on?" Miss Trish asked. She had her hand wrapped around her German Shepherd's collar and was pulling Lady back as the dog barked at the policeman.
    The officer's uniformed back was straight. The holstered gun and handcuffs hung from his belt, making this seem all too real. He held a canister out to Miss Trish. "Ma'am, your son was using this spray paint to tag the basketball court at the park."
    "Sean, what in the world?" She pulled up on Lady's collar, forcing the dog to sit. The barking died down, but Lady was still eyeing the intruder, ears alert.
    I moved a little farther out on the branch, trying to see Miss Trish's face. Oh NO! The branch bent under my weight, throwing off my balance. My foot slipped. I clung to the limb above me, which trembled. Please, don't let them notice, I prayed. The officer looked over his shoulder. I stilled, not even daring to breathe. My glasses slid, inching their way to the tip of my nose. Trying to keep them on my face, I scrunched up my nose and tilted my head up. When the officer turned back around, I twisted and made a grab for the trunk, hugging it. Nice tree. I took a deep breath, pushed my glasses up, and resumed my eavesdropping.

    Thanks so much for reading it! I'd appreciate any feedback you have.

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    1. Hi Lisa.
      I love the set up of this situation--the intrigue of a best friend being escorted home by the police. I also get a great sense of her personality through a few well-placed lines, like the fact she knows about the best view from previous experience, and how she says "nice tree" and continues eavesdropping. I love that!
      A couple suggestions: Since she wants to be a detective, can she be searching for clues rather have the Officer simply say that Sean was tagging? Maybe she sees the can or the shape of the can...is Sean there? Does he have paint on him? Just wondering if you can bring to life her sleuthing and make her more active here. Also, I felt like the dog pulled me out of the scene a little. Not sure that you need so many mentions of him unless he becomes important here for some reason. A final note...as she's hanging there afraid to breath--is there a way to add just a few words to let us know why she's so afraid of being caught? She's eavesdropping yes, but would there be any consequences? Has she been caught before? Something to think about because it can add a little more drama. Overall, this feels like a great character/situation for a middle grade. Thanks for sharing--and thanks for the nice feedback on my excerpt! :)

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    2. Yes, to Amy's wonderful suggestions! And I just adore this: "When the officer turned back around, I twisted and made a grab for the trunk, hugging it. Nice tree. I took a deep breath, pushed my glasses up, and resumed my eavesdropping."

      The Nice tree tells us so very much. :)

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    3. I agree! I loved the "nice tree." The description of Andi trying to keep her glasses on also worked for me. I was actually doing it myself while I was reading it. My suggestion would be to take out the "Oh no!" and keep what makes Andi say oh no. Maybe even place the "Oh no" after the bending weight of the branch.

      Well done!

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    4. I love this eavesdropping scene and can picture your character trying to keep on her glasses while up in the tree.

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  2. What is most amazing about your excerpt is how the details you include are descriptive but also advance the plot. There is not one wasted word. My favourite part is the stranger bumping into your character. It seems insignificant but her reaction tells us she isn't supposed to be leaving. You have left me with a cliffhanger in such a short time! I definitely want to read more!

    Here's my excerpt:
    “Uh, hi Mike,” I said smiling in a way I knew looked fake. Mike looked up at me like I had just said something really stupid. “I was wondering if you could help me with something?” I knew small talk wasn’t going to get me anywhere so I figured I would just ask him.

    “Why?” he asked.

    “Why?” I repeated. “I don’t know. Because you are the best person to help me.”

    “That explains why you asked,” he said. “It doesn’t explain why I should help you. What’s in it for me?”

    I looked at him for a second, thinking about his question. Should I promise him something? Should I make a bargain with him? I didn’t even know what I was looking for.

    “There probably isn’t anything in it for you.” I said starting to turn away. He shrugged and looked back down at his book. “I was trying to code a webpage and I think I made a mistake because it doesn’t work. I just wondered if you could look at it for me?” Lying seemed like the only option at the time.

    He looked back up at me. “Where’s the code?”

    I pulled a piece of paper out of my hoodie pocket and gave it to him. I had printed a screenshot of the page so I could show it to him. We weren’t allowed to use our devices at break.

    He unfolded the paper and looked at the code for a minute. Then he looked up at me.

    “You didn’t write this.” he said matter of factly, giving me back the paper.

    I shrugged and started to walk away. Maybe there was someone else I could ask.

    “Besides,” he called after me. “Even if you did, it wouldn’t work. The secret message would mess up the coding.”

    I stopped and turned back around to look at him. “Secret message?”

    “Yeah,” he said looking me in the eye. Then the corner of his mouth turned up slightly like he was about to smile. It was the kind of smile wolves have in fairytales before they eat the pigs. He knew he had me now.

    “Wanna know what it says?”

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    1. Hi Diana,

      Thanks for sharing your scene! I'm definitely intrigued. Where did she get this page of coding and what is the message and why does she have it and where will it lead! She can't figure it out on her own, which is a great problem and the consequences could be big--it feels that way. So that's awesome!
      One thing I think you can try to improve this passage, is to go back through and delete some (or most) of the action and movement. You've got a tense situation here. She needs something from him and he's not exactly cooperating. This is a moment when all the drama and action is playing out in the dialogue and all the stops for narration slow things down. In fact, one of the things I like to do when I'm writing, is to draft an entire scene with ONLY dialogue. I just let the conversation play out. Then I go back and add enough context so readers won't be confused. Here's a sample of some of your paragraphs to show you what I mean:

      “I was wondering if you could help me with something?”

      “Why?” he asked.

      “Why? I don’t know. Because you are the best person to help me.”

      “That explains why you asked,” he said. “It doesn’t explain why I should help you. What’s in it for me?”

      “There probably isn’t anything in it for you. I was trying to code a webpage and I think I made a mistake because it doesn’t work. I just wondered if you could look at it for me?” I said, every word a lie.

      He held out a hand. “Where’s the code?”

      That's just a few lines, but for me it feels sharper, clearer, cleaner...all sorts of good things. :) If you agree, give it a try in other scenes!

      And thanks for the feedback! I'm so glad my opening worked for you--I only rewrote it about 17 times. ;)

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    2. Oh--and I meant to say I loved that line at the end about the kind of smile wolves have in fairy tales before they eat the pig. Wish I'd come up with that. :)

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    3. Hi, Diana,

      Agree with Amy! You have a great scene going here with some intrigue and lots of tension. Less is totally more.

      A place *I* could really feel it was here -- where if you yank out the unneeded actions, it would really hold tension and shine. And by the way, this is all stuff for REVISION later. You're doing great! I'm totally intrigued and want to know more!!! :)

      So, from this:

      “You didn’t write this.” he said matter of factly, giving me back the paper.

      I shrugged and started to walk away. Maybe there was someone else I could ask.

      “Besides,” he called after me. “Even if you did, it wouldn’t work. The secret message would mess up the coding.”

      TO:

      “You didn’t write this.” He shoved the paper back at me.

      I shrugged and walked away. Maybe there was someone else I could ask.

      “Besides,” he called after me. “Even if you did, it wouldn’t work. The secret message would mess up the coding.”

      Such a tiny tweak to up the drama. BUT again, on revision. Great stuff!!!

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    4. I'm really intrigued by this piece, Diana. And I learned a lot from your suggetions, Gae and Amy. It will help me with my own work, so thank you!

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  3. Thank you Gae & Amy -
    THE MEMORY OF THINGS is on my class Summer Reading List! Love it! I am pre-ordering THE FALL FROM GRACE today! Thanks so much for great books and writing advice. Here is my excerpt -

    My mouth is dry, and my tongue is heavy and stuck to the roof of my mouth. I try and try, but I can’t open my eyes. I am Maggie Palmer. My body seems to have a mind of its own and doesn’t listen to the signals I try to send to my various appendages. Maybe I just think I am trying to open my eyes and pry my dry mouth open to call out. I can see myself lying on the ground as if I am having an out-of-body experience.

    Rain drops gentle pit-pat on my face, but the rain escalates quickly from soft and somewhat refreshing to a harsher more biting p-p-p-p-p like a paintball gun repeatedly firing. Each raindrop slams against my immobile body with a vengeance. I can’t move. My head remains like a much too heavy weight at the gym that, no matter how hard I try, I can’t lift. My name is Maggie Palmer, and I can’t lift my head.

    As the earth around me turns soggy, I smell the mud and the sickly sweet scent of the nearby oleanders. I can smell. That must be a good thing. Right? I hear someone moving near me – squishing in the drenched grass; the footsteps reach the gravel path nearby and make a soft crunch, crunch, crunch as they move in the opposite direction. I catch the bass tones of the giant spherical wind chimes that hang in the old oak tree. Their lonely sound echoes my own feelings. My name is Maggie Palmer, and I’m alone - maybe.

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    1. Hi Georgia,
      Thanks for sharing your excerpt. The writing is really evocative and I'm immediately immersed in what feels like a scary/frightening situation. Talk about a problem!
      I love that you're creating mystery here as well as questions, but I almost feel like I need a little more grounding as I read. Or maybe it's that I would expect her to be "thinking" questions. For instance, if she's having an out of body experience, then where is she lying--does she know? She hears footsteps--does she wonder who they belong to? She hears wind chimes and recognizes it's an old oak tree--does that mean she knows where she is? (I love the line about the oleanders and she can smell and that must be a good thing.) It may be that all of this becomes clear in the next paragraphs but these are some of the questions that occurred to me as I read. For now--keep writing--I'm curious to know is Maggie will be OK!

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    2. Georgia, yes to all the wonderful questions Amy asks, and yes to feeling immersed immediately in your problem -- and compelled to know what is going on!

      I couldn't help myself and decided to do a superspeed flash edit because you are a master at describing sounds and smells, and I feel like -- on REVISION (meaning not now, write forward!!!) -- your writing will pop and shine like crazy if you pull back some, both from repetition of words (nearby, nearby) and unnecessary description -- a heavy tongue is heavy... we don't need more (and it being stuck to the top of one's mouth almost seems the opposite of heavy?) It's almost as if, when we offer MORE description than needed, we distract the reader with trying to feel how it feels. Heavy tongue, got it. I'm immersed. Heavy tongue stuck to roof of my mouth, i'm now wondering, Can it be? Peanut butter type thing? etc. :) Another example is the gym weight simile followed by the paintball gun one. Pick one (I went with paintball) and leave the other out -- we know what a weight is and feels like, don't need to be more specific -- and see how the writing shines even more. See what you think. Again, all stuff for REVISION. Your work is great! Keep going:

      My mouth is dry, and my tongue, heavy. I try and try, but I can’t open my eyes.

      I am Maggie Palmer.

      My body has a mind of its own and won’t listen to the signals I send to my various appendages. I pry my dry mouth open to call out.

      As if hovering above, I see myself lying on the ground.

      Rain drops pit-pat on my face, but the rain escalates quickly from soft and somewhat refreshing to a more biting p-p-p-p-p, like a paintball gun repeatedly firing. Each drop pelts my immobile body with a vengeance. Still, I can’t move. My head remains a weight I cannot lift.

      My name is Maggie Palmer, and I can’t lift my head.

      As the earth around me turns soggy, I smell the mud and the sickly sweet scent of the oleanders. I can smell. That must be a good thing. Right?

      Someone moves near me – a squishing sound in the drenched grass. The footsteps reach the gravel path nearby and make a soft crunch, crunch, crunch as they move in the opposite direction, leaving only the bass tones of the giant spherical wind chimes that hang in the old oak tree.

      Their lonely sound echoes my own feelings.

      My name is Maggie Palmer, and I’m alone - maybe.

      Delete
  4. Hello there Gae & Amy! Hope you enjoyed your hike and swim (and thanks for volunteering to assist us today)! Mr. Evans (Nate?)...Hi. It seems fate has turned her head to me again today....but first - commentary on Amy's snippet:

    Yup, you had my interest (okay, I admit..you had me on wearing used Goodwill shoes and that momentary "ewww" factor but also that "hey! $10!" factor. I've been there. Yup, I wanted to know why she was *asked* to stay in Phoenix; why she wants to go to Paris and how she thought that Phoenix would get her to Paris. Aaaand...why she thinks where she's headed is colder than Phoenix. So..yup, you've got me. :)

    Noooow back to Mr. Evans\Nate: Hi. I'm Crystal, and I'm a wayward PB writer. Isn't it interesting, again, that you and Amy came along and discussed *conflict* in our stories (even PBs) because I have a problem: I have a (IMHO) delightful little story about a girl who sets off to see the world in the cow pasture across the street in one afternoon. I'm a so-so artist and the thought of illustrating the Great Forest of NYC and the Red Barn Taj Mahal just tickles me. That said, I don't know how to put conflict in this story! I'm stuck! I mean..she *is* traveling on Holstein *camels* and she could get tossed into a cow patty...but my question is "must every PB have conflict? Can I just have Liza Jane spend a day lost in her imagination...without being tossed into a cow patty?" Oh, one more thing: I've been told that starting off a PB with conversation is an no-no....but....I'm not sure I want to do it different.

    Soo...ya'll's thoughts? And meet Ms. Liza Jane Romaine:

    “I’m off to see the world!” exclaimed Liza Jane.
    “That’s fine, dear. Just be home in time for dinner,” said Liza Jane’s mom.
    Liza Jane grabbed her backpack and began her journey across the back yard.
    Soon, she reached the Great Forest of New York City. Tall pine skyscrapers swayed in the wind and stretched as far as the eye could see.
    Liza Jane took her Explorer’s Map out of her backpack and searched for landmarks. “The Statue of Liberty is ten miles away in New York Harbor!”
    She trekked across pine straw sidewalks and listened to the hoots and tweets of city traffic.
    Finally, she reached the puddle of New York Harbor. In its center rested the tall oak Statue of Liberty. Liza Jane sloshed through the Harbor for a picture with Lady Liberty.
    “Onward to India!” Liza Jane said as she headed across the grassy desert. She could see black and white spotted camels grazing in the distance. (art note: Holstein cows)
    “Whew! It’s 100 miles to the Taj Mahal. I should take a camel to reach it!” said Liza Jane as she folded up her Explorer’s Map.
    She carefully approached a spotted camel and hopped up on its back. Liza Jane leaned back on her royal camel as her caravan approached the red barn Taj Mahal.
    The Maharaja waved from the tall tower as he tossed hay down below.
    (end o'snippet)

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    1. Hi Crystal! What a creative idea for a worldwide tour. As someone who grew up on a farm, this really resonated with my desire to get out in the world and the limitations of not being able to travel.

      One idea for starting without dialogue, if you decide to switch it, is maybe a bit of a one or two line narrator intro. I've seen that done in a few picture books I like. Even something simple, like the first line in Peter Reynold's ish, "Ramon loved to draw." I can see something like, "Liza Jane loved adventures." Then you can go right to dialogue. Just a thought!

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    2. Hey Meg! I grew up in a town of 400 folks and yes, I did great the world in a pasture (I also went on to tour the world a time and a half). So...hello there, fellow small town girl! That's a really great idea about dialogue....thanks for the starter idea!!

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    3. Hey, Crystal, hopefully Nate will be by soon!

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    4. Hi Crystal! I love the idea of your character touring around the field. I wonder if you could introduce some conflict through another character interrupting her (e.g., a pet dog or cat wanting to stop and rest, or sniff?) but she's insistent on finishing her tour?

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    5. No worries, Gae! Hey Andrea! Thanks for the kind words about Ms. Liza Jane's trip! That's a great idea for conflict...she can set off with her trusty pal DogDog who's *very* excited about the Great Forest of NYC! lol Thanks for the input!! :D

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    6. Hi Crystal,
      This is Amy and Nate! Thanks for sharing your story. We love creative stories like this and I think it gives kids great freedom seeing they can travel places in their own imaginations.
      A couple of general things: Don't worry about starting or not starting with dialogue. We both agree that there are no hard and fast rules about that. Cookiesaurus, in fact, is ONLY dialogue. You just need to find the best way to tell your story.
      When it comes to conflict, you really do want to give Liza Jane a problem to solve. I think it might already be here in your set up. Liza Jane wants to explore the world. Why? Is her own world too small? Is her mom too protective? Right now, her mom says be home by dinner, but what if mom said "don't go any farther than the cow pasture." Now, Liza Jane has a problem. She wants to explore but she's not allowed. So what does she do? She goes to the cow pasture...maybe she even stomps over there in frustration. And then what? Does she reimagine the cow pasture into all the places she wants to go? We love the places you've imagined and the idea of her seeing cows as camels; a barn as the Taj Mahal. Also, if you are going to start with dialogue, then definitely give us more. Express her wonder in the things she sees. But also...even in her made up travels, give her problems. Does she step in something? Does the cow/camel chase her? Does she fall off the Empire State Building (a tree.) What does she say about that? It might be that a day of travel is invigorating and she comes home ready to explore again tomorrow (with new places in mind), or maybe she comes home appreciating her own place. Those are options to explore. But you've definitely got a story here!
      Just a quick note about illustrations. (And this is something I learned when I teamed up with Nate, Crystal.) They're fun to do for yourself (or your family) but when you submit picture book manuscripts, writers don't include illustrations.
      Great work! Keep on going.

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    7. Hey Amy and Nate! Wowza, did you guys get my brain 'ahoppin'! Ahhh....Mom doubts that she can really see the world in a day....and she sets out to prove Mom wrong! Buuut things don't go exactly as planned (I mean..I did leave out that she floats down the Nile). I did think about adding more conversation but I was trying to keep word count down (I'm rather talkative when I write - just ask Gae!). Don't worry, Nate. I'm a rotten artist. I just do medieval manuscripts - calligraphy and border illumination (which I wish I could figure out a way to teach kids to create manuscripts). I leave all the illustrative genius to artists like you. You guys gave me some *awesome* firestarter material. Now to go percolate. :D

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    8. OMG, Totally amazing advice from Amy & Nate!! I can see why it got you unstuck! (And it's helping me think about how to help my students and myself find our problems that may be there all along...) GREAT feedback!!!

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    9. OMG! I had another "John Hughes Fist Pump in the Parking Lot Moment" (tm), Gae! lol It was fantastic feedback! It gave me *tons* of jumping off spots. I'm also sitting here thinking about how to pull off that Kid's Guide to Scribing. I don't think you know, Gae, how incredibly generous and valuable Teachers Write is (including this Friday Feedback)....esp. to us languishing here on top of Query (and Reject) Mountain. I think I can safely say from the bottom of all our collective hearts, "Thanks!"

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    10. Believe it or not, Crystal, many of us still know that reject mountain well. And I am constantly amazed by the generosity of authors I know... it's a really amazing thing to witness. Glad it is helping! <3

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  5. Hi Amy (and Nate),

    Thank you for the mini-lesson. I met with a writer friend yesterday and was telling her to throw her main character into the fire (Laura Golden, the amazing author of Everyday After, told my students to throw their main characters in the fire during a Skype interview). I was telling her that the meaner the better (especially for the antagonists) because that creates a "page-turning" problem.

    I LOVED your excerpt. It leaves the reader questioning so many things and wanting to read more (I kept thinking "mysterious" while reading and rereading the excerpt). I really enjoyed the lines, "I’ve been “asked” to remain in Phoenix. I’ve been “cautioned” and “advised” and “strongly encouraged.” Also, I know that I was reading it for the problem, but I also was impressed with your descriptive details - I could really visualize the scene/setting.

    My excerpt comes from a chapter book that I am working on. Here goes:

    I come down the stairs and see Christy and Coach Barnes in the doorway. Christy’s face is all red and her eyes look watery. The nightmare continues.

    “How could you do this, Sammy? Why did you cheat?” She yells at me.

    “I didn’t cheat. No one will listen.”

    “You always have excuses,” she interrupts me. “And I knew that something was up. I never want to talk to you again.” And she storms out the front door.

    Coach doesn’t even move an inch. He doesn’t even go after his own daughter.

    “She’s real emotional, Sammy. You really let her down. Can we talk for a few minutes?”

    Mom directs us to the living room and Coach delivers one of his most heartfelt lectures ever. It’s all about me letting down the team. I try to tell him that I did the project, but he talks about honesty, perseverance, the importance of school, lessons that can be learned from sports, teamwork, and the effects that something like this can have on a team. He goes on and on.

    “Coach, you gotta believe me. I didn’t cheat.”

    “I wish I could,” is all he said. Then, he pats me on the back, says goodbye to Mom, and leaves through the front door.

    I let down the team.

    I let down the team.

    I let down the team.

    The words keep running through my head all night. Why didn’t I tell Ms. Dean that Jared wasn’t doing any of the project? She wouldn’t have believed me anyway.

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    1. Hi Andrew,
      I love that you were counseling a writing friend to be mean just yesterday. :) I've always heard "put your character in a tree and throw rocks" but I love "throw them in the fire."

      Your excerpt really makes me feel for your main character. Especially the "I let the team down" mantra. That's the worst sort of feeling at that age. He's definitely got a problem and I'm intrigued why no one will believe him. Does his coach hear him out? There's obviously something going on here that makes Sammy look guilty. How will he deal with this problem? Will he try and prove himself? Or is he protecting someone? Is it that he's been unreliable in the past? You've set up some great questions and having Sammy lose his good friend on top of everything else is a nice (mean) touch.
      Keep going!
      And thanks for the feedback on my excerpt. Bringing a scene to life visually is one of the biggest struggles for me, so I'm really glad to know I managed to do that here!

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    2. That threepeat of "I let down the team," IS so powerful, isn't it?! And then followed by that huge problem we can all relate to.. . awful when people don't believe us when we're telling the truth. Good stuff, Andy!
      <3

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  6. Hello Gae and Amy! Thank you for feedback. Totally interested in Fall of Grace! For the last two Fridays I have submitted my YA novel excerpts, but today I am going to share a different story that I wrote about feelings when my brother died when I was 15. I used fictional characters, but most of the events in my story were true. Writing helps bring out feelings we never knew existed.

    We headed up to a little resort only thirty minutes from our house, Alpine. I loved skiing, and my family and I had spent many Saturdays at this resort. The morning sun sparkled on the snow, and the sound of it crunching underneath my feet made me smile as we walked up to buy tickets.
    "Are you going to surprise me with your skiing skills, too?" Sean asked.
    "Maybe,” I said with a mischievous grin.
    Mid-way down on the first run, I stopped at the “Eagle's Landing Jump” to watch some skiers. This jump was for really experienced skiers. I recognized a close friend of Chris' there and he waved to me. I hadn’t seen him since the funeral.
    "Hey Stacy, what's up?"
    "Not much."
    "How are your parents?"
    "They're fine."
    "I watched Chris do a 360 off this jump last year; and it was amazing! He had no fear; we all loved hanging out with him. I sure do miss him."
    "Yeah, hey, I gotta go."
    I turned and headed straight down the mountain. I had never seen Chris do a 360. I didn't even know he could do a 360. Shades of light and dark flickered through the trees onto the snow in front of me as I raced through the moguls, and I fiercely fought back tears. I tried not to remember how last year, Mom made Chris take Mark and me skiing. He drove us up to Alpine, grabbed his equipment, and told us he would meet us at the car at 4:30. He ditched us until 4:30. I even went over to “Eagle's Landing” once, but we never saw him until 4.30.
    "Hey, wait up!" Sean called. Oh, my gosh! I had totally forgotten about Sean. He sped in front of me and turned. I stopped abruptly spraying him with a wave of snow.
    "Are you okay?" he asked.
    "No."
    "Do you want to talk..." his voice trailed off, as if unsure if that was the right thing to say.
    "Don't," I interrupted, and looked down so he couldn't see my eyes fill with tears.
    "Okay."
    He side-stepped with his skis over to me and grabbed my hand, his pole clanking into my pole. His other gloved hand lifted my chin: "If you ever want to talk, I will listen."

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    1. Hi Kay,
      Your excerpt definitely touched my heart and knowing that you were writing about your own history makes it that much more powerful.
      It was interesting, because it starts out very upbeat. She doesn't seem to be bothered by any memories though she's coming back to a place where her and Chris were together. I wonder if there might be a hint at the opening, maybe from Sean, asking are you sure you're all right?" And she can say yes and we won't know why until she meets up with the friend later.
      I especially loved the part about not knowing Chris could do a 360. It's painfully real and true and that comes through in your writing.
      Thanks so much for sharing and I hope you'll keep working on it!

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    2. Kay, I didn't read Amy's response until I had already cut this moment which is poised in my cursor (I guess, or wherever that stuff goes when you cut it before you paste it! O.o ):


      I had never seen Chris do a 360. I didn't even know he could do a 360. Shades of light and dark flickered through the trees onto the snow in front of me as I raced through the moguls, and I fiercely fought back tears.

      That is SO beautiful and powerful especially followed by that lovely description of the light. I'm sure you have a whole novel here . . . Keep going.

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    3. I love this piece. Thank you for sharing it today.

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    4. This piece hit me in all the feels today for way too many reasons. Lovely!

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  7. That bus station scene! I think I moved with Grace when she got bumped. I want to know where she's going too, this story sounds like something I will be adding to my class library. My snippet is something I've been working on since joining this group. It started as a writing activity, and now I wake up thinking about my character.

    I’ve been waiting for summer vacation since last September. June, July and most of August are worry breaks for me, sort of. I heard Aunt Kiki say that the second half of August feels like a month of Sundays, and I have to agree, but for now I will try to as Aunt Kiki says, “Enjoy BE season.”
    At least my hair twirls at a much slower speed unless annoying Trey is around, but that’s a story for later. Today is about unpacking and finding Bree.
    In real life, Bree lives one state away; in summertime she lives in the house next door. Trey lives next to Bree, but that’s a story for later.
    Aunt Kiki knows exactly what I’m up to before I even tell her and she stops opening closed curtains long enough to say,
    “Bean, give Bree a hello hug from me, and if you see Trey tell him I have a book for him.”
    I can feel my cheeks and neck getting warm at the mention of Trey, but that’s a story for later, because Bree is right outside on the sidewalk, and I'm sure she has a bubble machine and a plan.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Maureen,
      I love that you're waking up thinking about your character. I do the same thing when I get into a new project!
      I love Bean from this excerpt--she comes across as a little quirky, a little adventurous, but she's also a worrier that so many of us can relate to. It's so cute how she says, "but that's a story for later." I think you can maybe get away with using it twice here, but 3 times pulled me out from the story. Favorite lines: the bubble machine and a plan, and also how "In real life Bree lives one state away." Those are the little phrases that give Bean a unique voice.
      As far as problems go, I can see that there is something going on with Trey, but I don't really have a sense of what challenges Bean will be facing. Is there anything in particular she's worried about? A goal for the summer? Something she'll have to face when she goes back.... Is it just about having the most fun possible with Bree before school starts again? I'm wondering too, if you might drop a tiny hint about Trey and what the conflict is. She says he's annoying but then her cheeks get warm at the mention of him. Is that anger? Is that romance? Did something happen last summer that absolutely will not happen again.... It doesn't take much, but if you can give us a little something problem-wise, it will add to your already wonderful beginning.

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    2. Amy gives the exact feedback I would, and I cannot wait to read more about Bean (I have a "Beans" in SUMMER OF LETTING GO. . . so I'm particularly partial. ;) ) Keep going.

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  8. “Darrell Matthews!” A sharp voice rips through the crackly PA system.

    Darrell gets to his feet. Part of him hopes it will be his mom but part of him fears seeing her again. The idea of her seeing him behind bars fills his whole body with an icy chill. Besides, he has worked hard to maintain a façade of indifference in his new world. He reads, he writes and he makes sure his face portrays a cool, blank stare at all times. It takes all his energy to maintain this cold detachment from the world around him and if lets his guard down, even for a moment, he knows he will break.

    He walks towards the guest room, his momentary excitement at a break in the monotony of his routine, turning to fear. How was he going to face anyone from his position?

    The heavy concrete door stands between Darrell and a reminder that a world outside exists.

    “You got a visitor?” The guard who buzzes him in asks.

    Darrel shrugs as though he doesn’t care and hopes that the guard doesn’t see his hands shaking.

    “Sit at table 4,” the guard says. His voice is gruff.

    Darrell walks to table 4 and sits across from a woman that he has never seen before. It occurs to him that she is the only white face in the room. Her elegant navy blue pants suit looks out of place among all the ratty sweatshirts and sweatpants.

    The silence hovers above them like a fog that lingers as the sun tries to rise through the mist.

    “Your mother is paying me by the hour. Let’s not waste it,” her voice comes out in a clipped staccato pulse. It immediately commands his attention.

    “Who are you?” Darrell asks, surprised that his voice still works.
    She holds out her hand. “Cameron Anderson. I’m your new lawyer.”

    Darrell looks confused. “But that guy who came to see me the first day I got here. He said he was my lawyer.”

    “I don’t take many juvenile cases. But your mother came to see me. She wouldn’t take no for an answer.”

    “How much did she pay you?” Darrell asks, knowing the answer before it leaves her lips.

    “Thirty thousand dollars.” Cameron replies.

    Darrell feels the number punch him in the chest. His heart pounds. His college fund. Every last penny of his city college money is in this woman’s pocketbook. Suddenly he wants to reach over and grab this woman by the throat and strangle her. He wonders if his sudden penchant for violence means he is finally starting to belong here.
    “Listen. We have a lot of work to do. Your public defender didn’t exactly leave me a lot to go on. We’re going to have to start from scratch and we don’t have much time.”

    “I didn’t do it,” Darrell whispers.

    “I don’t really care whether you did or you didn’t. You were found with a gun in your hand and enough drugs to kill an elephant. A man is dead. The bullet in his chest matches the gun in your hand. We need to look at either a self-defense option or find someone else to pin it on.”

    Darrell’s hand brushes his face and he notices that his face is wet.
    Cameron doesn’t flinch. “Look, I’m not your mom and I’m not your friend. I’m not going to hold your hand. I’m going to give it to you straight. In the eyes of the law, you are a black man who killed a white store clerk and was found with drugs on him.”

    “But I –"

    “Did he threaten you?”

    “No.”

    “Was the gun yours?”

    “No! I don’t even know how to…” Darrell stops. He realizes his mistake.

    “Don’t know how to what, Darrell? Don’t know how to fire a gun? Who fired the gun?”

    Darrell falls silent.

    “Here’s my card. When you are ready to talk, call me. I liked your mother very much. I’d hate to waste her money,” Cameron says. She hands him the card and stands up to leave.

    Darrell watches as she walks towards the exit of the small visitor’s room.

    “Ma’am?” he says. His voice sounds shaky and unsteady.

    Cameron turns around. Her hopeful eyes betray her hard exterior.

    “Tell my mama I love her and that I’m okay,” he says, turning away.
    “You’re not okay in here Darrell. You’ll never be okay in here,” she says. Her tone is matter-of-fact and there is not a hint of sympathy in it.

    He looks around and knows she is right

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    1. Hi Jess,
      Thanks for sharing your excerpt. It drew me right in.
      Right away, I have sympathy for Darrell--not an easy thing to do! I want to know what happens to him and I want him to be OK. And you've obviously put him in a dire situation. The lawyer character felt believable to me and as she laid out the facts I couldn't help thinking that you are definitely a member of the Mean Club! :)
      My one question would be how old is Darrell and how well educated is he? A few of his thoughts, especially in the opening paragraph "facade of indifference" and "cold detachment" feel very mature. Since you're in his head, it needs to be authentic to who he is. It's something to consider as you know more about him than I do at this point.
      Keep going--you've got a page turner here!

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    2. Thanks so much, Amy. I've gotten that comment a few times. Darrell is smart and an excellent student but you are the second person to comment on the maturity of the language, so I definitely need to look at that going forward.

      Proud new member of the mean club!

      Thank you so much. And I apologize if my excerpt was long. I didn't realize how long it was at first glance. I appreciate you taking the time to read it!

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    3. Jess, I'm so excited that you have moved forward with the story as far as you have and that, as little as I know about Darryl, I'm already care for him, ache for him, and am rooting for him.

      As for the older/mature voice... if you choose to, those are easy fixes. E.g. this:

      Besides, he has worked hard to maintain a façade of indifference in his new world. He reads, he writes and he makes sure his face portrays a cool, blank stare at all times. It takes all his energy to maintain this cold detachment from the world around him and if lets his guard down, even for a moment, he knows he will break.

      Could easily be this (especially since you have the repeat of cool, cold, etc.):

      Besides, he has worked hard to stay indifferent in his new world. He reads, he writes and he makes sure his face holds a cool, blank stare at all times. Of course, this takes energy to maintain, but he knows if he lets his guard down, even for a moment, he will break.

      We'll discuss other fun "revision" stuff this week, but for now, it's great and WRITE FORWARD!!

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    4. No problem Jess--it read faster than it looks so I didn't even notice if it was long. (If that makes sense.) :) I'm glad my comments helped. I really like having 2 readers on things just because you're not sure if you want to make changes sometimes until you have that confirmation.
      :)

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  9. hi Amy and Gae, thanks so much for doing this! It's truly a gift. I double-checked the rules and hope I haven't exceeded, given the dialogue.

    I focus on the bus again. People are standing up in nearly every row. A boy in the back makes a waving motion with his arms like he’s at a baseball game and the wave carries toward the front of the bus on the opposite side from me. The bus pulls to the side of the road and everyone immediately drops back to their seats, before the bus driver throws the gearshift into Park and whirls around. “Stop it! The next person to stand up is going to be in the principal’s office the minute we get to school.” She turns back around but not before I see that her eyes and cheeks are wet behind her glasses.

    We’re on our way again. There’s a tap on my shoulder and the boy behind me, the one with the badly-drawn ink football on his arm, hisses, “Stand up.”

    I pretend I didn’t hear him but now the two girls across the aisle are glaring at me and whispering fiercely, “Come on, kid. Stand up.” I glance behind me at Football Blondie, who gives me a challenging nod with his chin and says, “What are you, chicken? Stand up.”

    An eighth grade boy I recognize says with a smirk, “Don’t be useless.”

    A ninth grade girls chimes in, “He can’t help it, can you, Useless?”

    I can feel Cosmos Girl look at me, even though she hasn’t moved her head. She’s judging me, I know it, but which way? Does she think I’m chicken or a troublemaker? I’m already Useless, I don’t want to be Chicken, too. I stare at the back of the seat in front of me and pick at a rip in the fake green leather. I shouldn’t be thinking about Useless. I should be thinking about the bus driver’s tears and about how upset my mother will be if I get in trouble before I step foot in the school. But as usual, I’m not thinking, I’m doing. Football Blondie flicks the back of my neck and before I know it, I stand up.

    So my first day of junior high starts in the principal’s office instead of homeroom.

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    1. Hi Laurel,
      I really enjoyed your excerpt. I'm not sure what I was expecting but I was surprised when he stood up--which is great. There's an immediate problem here which I love, and though it's resolved, it leads to another, bigger problem--the principal's office. Nice!! Also, this scene on the bus gives me a sense of who he is and also the environment. I love how he's classified/named the other students and I especially love that they use the word "useless." It feels very cruel--and very real, to me.
      As far as edits, it all looks good, though I wonder if you can punch up the first paragraph. Can you shorten it--or maybe use dialogue to make it feel quicker and more active? For instance, could the bus driver call out, "Stop that!" Then suddenly she's yanking the bus to the curb. "The next person....." Maybe play around with it, but you're off to a great start.

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    2. Oh my goodness, Laurel! I love this! And I totally feel the struggle this poor kid is going through. Do the right thing? Impress everyone? I feel his inability to think it through. I can feel that moment where in his head he says "So what...it's not a big deal..." And then just stands up!



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    3. Thanks, Amy and NYJess01. I'm sure I have plenty of places where I need to punch up the narrative and the dialogue and will remember this advice. Right now I'm under orders from Gae to write forward, which is advice I am taking to heart or I'll never finish the book. But I will definitely go back here and elsewhere to tighten, trim, and make it move faster. have a great weekend!

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    4. Laurel is correct! Amy's notes are amazing and all, of course, meant (as so much of what we do here) for REVISION, not first drafts. Although, we can also pay attention to whatever ticks we have as we write FORWARD and look to reduce them, I suppose.

      Laurel, I especially love this: But as usual, I’m not thinking, I’m doing. Football Blondie flicks the back of my neck and before I know it, I stand up.

      And wonder if it is close to the end of your chapter? If it is, remind me to talk about taking "one step over the threshold." This would be a GREAT one. <3 Keep going.

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    5. Thanks, Gae. "So my first day of junior high starts in the principal’s office instead of homeroom." is the last line of the chapter.

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    6. Hmmmm, it could go either way... remind me Wednesday to talk about that "one step over" thing and we'll use this as an example and a group poll. :D

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  10. Hello, Gae and Amy and Nate! I read #bookaday and am so happy to add Amy's books to my library and Amazon shelves.

    For the past two Fridays, I've shared the first poems of my YA verse novel, Alone Together, but I thought I'd share something from the middle today to see what you think of the problems unraveling here. The MC, 15 year old Sadie Carter, has always been an observer of the unraveling of her huge, dysfunctional family, which has helped her "survive" the chaos, but the latest problems (Dad's depression, Mom's affair, younger sister's pregnancy)are seeping into the cracks of her protective wall, and she is not sure if she wants to rebuild the wall or let it fall. This boy, Sam, is trying to help her.

    A Glimpse

    Even though Sam is not twenty-one
    he let’s me drive his car to the hospital
    after work.

    He insists we stop at Jewel on the way
    to buy a wildflower bouquet
    because Teresa is no carnation.

    As I approach the room,
    I hear the cries
    of a baby confused about his new world,
    of a girl-now-mother unable to sooth her son.
    I hear the voice
    of a mother teaching her daughter how to breastfeed,
    shushing an incompetent nurse,
    ordering her friend to position a pillow.
    I witness a familiar chaos
    and understand why my mother doesn’t want to do this again.
    I hand the bouquet to the incompetent nurse,
    re-wrap my scarf,
    and drive home in silence.

    As I put the car in park,
    I feel Sam reach for me.
    His palm holds my cheek
    as I turn towards him.
    His eyes hold my gaze,
    as mine wet.
    His lips taste my tears,
    then find mine
    parted to welcome
    his comfort.



    Grilled Cheese

    The porch light is illuminated
    by someone
    watching,
    waiting
    with a stuffed elephant.

    I put my hand over Sam’s,
    close my eyes
    to swim in this moment a bit longer
    then reach for the unlock button.

    “Wait,” Sam says.
    “You don’t want me to come in?”

    “It’s Toni,” I say.
    “Home alone.
    Mom and Dad
    likely forgot
    about her.
    She’s only
    twelve-years-old.
    Probably
    just eating
    dry cereal
    alone.”

    “I’ll make her something --
    us--
    something.”

    Sam makes us grilled cheese.
    Brings it to me and Toni
    quilted-up on the sofa
    watching Wonder Woman
    cartoons.

    Sam carries Toni upstairs
    where he sees
    how we sleep --
    on the floor
    a blanket, a pillow.

    A question, no judgment
    in his patient, blue eyes.

    “When there were four or five to a room
    there was no space for beds or bunks.
    Side-by-side, we lay here
    a row of caterpillars wiggling for space;
    we’d whisper stories and wishes until we fell asleep,”
    I explain from the doorway.

    Toni wakes, says, “Thanks.
    It really was a great grilled cheese.”

    “Did someone make grilled cheese?”
    Dad calls from downstairs.

    I look at Sam and say,
    “Will you make one more?”

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    1. Hi Sarah,
      A huge GIGANTIC thank you for adding my books to your shelves. I appreciate it so much!
      I love novels in verse, though I'm going to admit I haven't got a clue how you do it. :) These scenes were beautifully told and managed to paint an emotional picture in just a few words. I want to know what happens to your MC and I already can tell I'm going to love Sam.
      There's definitely problems here and it's obvious it hasn't been an easy life. I'm interested in reading on just because I can see there's a lot of turmoil--is she going to be okay? Great job!
      I did have one or two questions. In the first scene, does she leave without seeing her sister? That's the impression I get but I'd like it to be clearer. Is she backing out, backing away...this would fit in to what you were saying in your description of the story--whether or not she wants to let her walls down. In the second scene, I got a little distracted by the idea of Sam carrying a twelve-year-old. Would Toni want this? It got me thinking that maybe she would. Maybe she'd hold up her arms to him, starved for touches and attention even from a stranger. (I'm assuming they're strangers because the MC explains to him that Toni is 12 as if he doesn't already know that.) This felt to me like a small moment that you might build on if it plays into the larger narrative. And it's really sweet.
      Again--really nice scenes. Good luck as you keep going!

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    2. Hi, Sarah,

      Oh you know how I am loving seeing these verses unfold. Today is no exception!

      I think Amy gives you some particularly great notes because they are, to me, places to gently and minimally, but meaningfully push the emotion.

      I want to feel MORE in the first GLIMPSE, especially. I get that your MC is an observer, but this feels old and comfortable for a 15 year olds voice especially since the stanza starts in "I approach..." I know it is from her perspective:

      As I approach the room,
      I hear the cries
      of a baby confused about his new world,
      of a girl-now-mother unable to sooth her son.
      I hear the voice
      of a mother teaching her daughter how to breastfeed,
      shushing an incompetent nurse,
      ordering her friend to position a pillow.
      I witness a familiar chaos
      and understand why my mother doesn’t want to do this again.
      I hand the bouquet to the incompetent nurse,
      re-wrap my scarf,
      and drive home in silence.

      I wonder if instead of girl-now-mother, which feels SO removed, you can actually have it be something more -- and watch my sister sooth her newborn son -- and then a line about her reaction. What does this FEEL like?! Unfathomable? Terrifying? Hopeful? Envy provoking? A mix of emotions? I don't know. But I'd like to feel it more.

      Here too:

      I hear the voice
      of a mother teaching her daughter how to breastfeed,

      I get observational character, but lacks emotion. How does she feel as she watches not a mother but HER mother teach HER sister? If she's trying to stay cool and removed maybe we can feel/see that too.

      This is me pushing you... and also, this may be too early in your story for the push (I'm going on out of context gut here...)

      Tell me if this makes sense...

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    3. And keep going. I know this whole story is going to be magnificent.

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  11. Hi Amy and Teachers Write campers! Thank you for sharing. I'm sure my students will enjoy coming up with problems for their characters.

    I'm really interested in learning more about your character. Where is he/she going? Why has he/she "been asked" to remain in Phoenix? What's brought up the change in boots/fashion sense?

    I also have a problem. I resolved to post something on Friday Feedback this year, and Teachers Write is almost over. I haven't developed what I'd like to have developed, but I've been researching and playing around with my grandparents' story. What appears below is really rough (as in I typed it up this morning) and may be the beginning or end of my story. I haven't decided.

    ____________________________________________________________________
    ARRIVED SAFELY. EXPECT TO SEE YOU SOON.
    She runs the yellow paper through her fingers; it’s rough and crinkly. She exhales deeply. Is it possible she’s been holding her breath since she received the last letter dated December 14? He actually boarded the ship and has arrived safely in New York.
    It began as a simple request. A kind, quiet man, Mr. Taylor, approached Verna on her first day of work at Cooper’s. “You look to be about the same age of my sons. Two of my boys are in the Army. Would you maybe write to one or both of them?” At the time, she thought, in her own way, she’d be supporting the troops.
    Now, after two and a half years and 105 letters, Carl was back in the United States, and she was going to meet him.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Jen,
      I'm so glad you decided to post!
      I really love this excerpt--it feels like an opening to me. It reminds me of a few books I've read and loved because the idea of meeting someone you've been writing to is so compelling. I can easily imagine from these short paragraphs all the possible complications--all the hopes and possibilities as well as the fears in the situation.
      As far as edits, I don't want to say much. You've just written it today and I know you'll smooth this over as you move forward. But one thing I'd suggest is that you try to be as specific as you can with details because this feels like another time and place and the best way to convey that is in the details. So for example--is it a yellow paper? Or is it a telegram with any certain markings or raised type? That's something you can research. I'd keep that in mind and use any opportunity you can to bring alive the setting through those details.
      How wonderful that it's based on your grandparents' story. I hope you'll keep going!

      Thanks for the feedback! <3

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    2. I really like this Jen, especially the last line. I want to find out what happens when she meets Carl.

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    3. I really love this too, Jen, and think Amy gives you some wonderful tips for pushing forward. I definitely think you have a beginning -- or ending! -- of a compelling story. Look forward to reading more. YAY!!!!

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  12. What works for me: There is so much mystery wrapped up in this beginning. I am bursting with questions! (Just as others have mentioned.)Where is she going? Why is she going? What was she like before that would have made her squeamish and what changed to make her no longer squeamish. Starting with her journey is so provocative. It begs for the reader to dive right in. So the answer to question 3, am I compelled to read, is a YES!

    What might not be working: I honestly can’t think of anything! I love the limited, yet important details you offer the reader as clues. I like her straightforward voice and clear determination. Can’t wait to read this one!

    Here is my snippet for today. My mc Alice is no stranger to problems. Her grandmother goes missing, her father loses his job. In this scene, I introduce her brother Miles, is has his own set of challenges. His challenges also impact Alice. I was a little unsure about how to introduce a character with autism. So I went for it! This was a challenge for me and I am excited to hear some feedback on what might not be working.



    There were two strange things about Miles. One was that he always changed his socks. Miles couldn’t stand wearing socks for longer than half of a day. When Alice asked him about this all he said was, “I just like to feel like I have clean feet.” Mom and Dad said Miles had something called Autism. They said it wasn’t like the flu. You couldn’t catch it. It was just something Miles was born with. Apparently it was because of Autism that Miles had to change socks. Nobody ever told Alice, but she thought it was probably because of Autism that Miles hit himself when he got mad. He didn’t do it as much anymore, a teacher at school taught him how to calm down. But as far as Alice could tell, Autism was just like being a regular person with a sock problem.

    The second strange thing about Miles was he should’ve died. When Miles was 3 years old he was alone in this house while mom was out working in the yard. Alice happened to be out with her dad while he was running errands. The family was living in cottage in the middle of Vermont somewhere. A fire started in the house and Miles wasn’t sure what was going on. His mom smelled something and turned around behind her to see flames in the window. She screamed and ran toward the house. Miles was standing at the back sliding glass door with flames leaping behind him. Mom got to the door, grabbed his hand, and ran. Within 2 minutes, the entire house burned down. The fire chief said it was just an electrical thing and it wasn’t Miles’s fault and it wasn’t mom’s fault. Gram says that mom stayed in bed a long time after that. That is one of the reasons they had to move that time.

    Ever since that day, Miles always had fire on his mind. He wasn’t really aware of this but if you asked him to draw a picture, somehow fire appeared in that picture. Alice wanted to ask him a million questions about the fire but he never really wanted to talk about it.

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    1. Hi Meg,
      It's always a challenge to write about a character with issues we don't completely understand--like autism--but that's what research is for. You have to be extra careful but I'm cheering you on for being brave and going for it!
      I really like the way you've set this up with the two things about Miles. I love the sock--a small detail that feels very telling to me and also authentic (not that I have anyway of knowing.) And it's a wonderful opening line "The second strange thing about Miles was he should've died."
      The biggest question I have for you is about POV. I'm not sure who is telling us all of this. I thought this was coming through Alice as third person--so only the things she would know. But then it slips into Omniscient--a narrator who knows all--in the second paragraph. We hear what Miles was thinking and that the mom screamed etc. even though Alice was not there to see or hear. Also, as it reads now "his mom" smelled something. If this is from Alice it would be "their mom." Does that make sense? If you do want this to be third person, but with the narrator in Alice's head, then you need to be sure you're describing everything as a girl of Alice's age/experience would.
      Also--all of this does a lot to tell us about Miles. I'd love to know more about how Alice feels having Miles for a brother. Is it frustrating? Is it wonderful? Is it no big deal? I'd love to get a clearer picture of that relationship--how they interact. That might be where those problems you talked about will become more clear.
      Nice work--I hope you'll keep going!

      Thanks so much for the feedback. "Bursting with questions" is a very good thing. <3

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    2. Oh, yeah, I definitely see what you are saying about the POV. Hmmm, I bet that happens in other places in my story.

      I've been a special education teacher and a general ed teacher and I've taught a lot of students with autism. Also, we always thought my brother had Aspergers but nobody thought that it was important to have that identified. I was trying to draw on those experiences to help me write but you never know about others might read it!

      Thank you for this feedback! Very helpful.

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    3. I know exactly what you mean about how others will read it. Once you've written something, it's no longer about what you meant, but what someone else thinks you meant. I was so worried about that in DIE FOR YOU because I was writing about a character with personality disorder that I added an author's note to say that I was only reflecting on one person in one situation. And I think that's what you're doing--what we're all doing, really. Everyone is unique--even if they all have the label "autism." Anyway, I'll step off my soap box. :) You obviously have experience as a special ed teacher and I did think that came through in your excerpt!
      Glad if I could help! I'm so impressed with everyone's talent--it's been fun.

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  13. Love, love this. Also love to read published authors who are questioning their work as I do my own. I like this character immediately and her voice is in my head. I want to ask her who told her all these quoted things? And the dochotomy of this new life and the one she had is quickly set up yet not completely revealed. I want to know who she was before when Paris was an option. What got her here. Can't wait to read your books. I was a bit jarred by the line about the breath calms. It just felt, to me, like something she might not say or too formal for her. I don't know just an observation.
    Here are a few paragraphs of my WIP, Parts
    They ask me again to tell what I remember and all I can answer is, “Parts”.
    I know they are disappointed. My mother cries. My father pats my hand. The lady in the gray suit just nods explaining how important my words are to help catch him.
    “Just think about it, and when you remember anything else, you let us know,” she says with a slow sigh and looks at my mother then my father, holding their eye contact, asking them for something.
    I tell her it all again, “I am thinking. I do remember. I remember him… in pieces. “
    She nods, quiet and confused. They don’t get that there are some parts that are so perfectly sharp and clear. Parts that just always hold still, so still that I reach up to touch them, a series of bursting daydream bubbles before me. Solid, always there parts, swirled with blurring, always moving away parts too.
    ”There is a nest of hair wrapped around his head, held slightly back on a thin, long neck, like it’s meant to keep the nest in place, like cotton candy stuck on his head. There is always that small wrinkled hand patting the mass down, or in the wind holding it still. “
    I remembered then, as we walked quickly across some unnamed busy intersection with my hand always empty but wanting, asking to be held, to be safe, even with him. I tagged along, the nest unraveled and trailed just next to him like a kite unwilling to completely be controlled by the string and the runner. Angry, he started muttering and smoothed it back against his head, huffing and puffing against the wind.
    “Did you see anyone else when you were walking? Did you ask for help?” she asks anxious for my response.
    “At first I was always talking and asking when I could go home, but then when it had been too many days to count,” my mother gasps, forcing me to whisper, “I stopped asking.”
    “What else did he do while you were walking all this time?”
    “He didn’t really talk except sometimes to say sorry for hurting me. He never did say he was taking me home. “
    I thought hard about what it is he actually did. He smoked, a lot. There were always stubborn cigarettes denying the light, siding instead with the power of the wind, always the wind, a chill that followed us. His back turned and hunched, the lighter going out each time. His cheeks sucked in with the effort to hold the cigarette still. It was quickly damned and thrown to the frozen earth. When he was mad he walked faster. I tagged along again, sometimes running.

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    1. Hi Diane,
      What a powerful scene you have here. I love that the title is Parts and there were a few lines here especially that just made me sigh they were so evocative. "Parts that just always hold still, so still that I reach up to touch them." And "my hand always empty but wanting." Beautiful--and also conveys that sense of wanting a connection even if it's to your kidnapper. (Which I'm assuming this is.)
      I had one thought...not sure if it's something you'd want to consider, but I wondered if you might give her a physical tic or nervous movement or maybe it's just a way of sitting--basically, some physical manifestation of what she's feeling inside. Again--I'm not sure you want to (or need to) but as I was trying to imagine her in this scene, it would give some more shape to her.
      Nice work--keep moving forward.

      And thank you for the feedback--it's so helpful to hear the good...and the jarring. ;)

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    2. Many beautiful and evocative lines... I am a bit ungrounded and if this were the opening would ask to be more... but if it is not, then I imagine in context I would be.

      This is the one that really drew me: "I tagged along, the nest unraveled and trailed just next to him like a kite unwilling to completely be controlled by the string and the runner." And that last paragraph... Wow.

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  14. When I posted my excerpt, I thought my comments about Grace's story posted. But it appears they didn't. I loved the tension. There are obvious questions. (Why was she "advised" not to leave Phoenix?)
    I was drawn to the less obvious questions. Is she coming back? Why is she headed towards a cold climate? How long? Why does she buy her boots at Goodwill? What happened to change her perspective?
    I would love to read more!

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    1. Thanks for the comments! And I love that you're thinking "is she coming back." That's actually a big question that looms over the story.
      <3

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  15. Hi Gae & Amy,

    Amy-such an honor to read this excerpt from your upcoming novel. I loved Die For You, and we’ve enjoyed Skyping with you. You’re simply delightful.

    Amy, I love the way you create intrigue. Why has she been asked to remain in Phoenix? Why the disguise? What, or who, is she hiding from? Where’s she going? It definitely draws me in. Can't wait to read it.

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    1. Thank you Sandy!!
      You're such a sweetheart. I'm always honored to be a part of your Skype days.
      <3

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  17. My excerpt is towards the end of my YA novel.
    Based on earlier feedback, I’m focusing more on the teen's point of view (Heidi). She and her mom, Cassie, have struggled through a year of the mom’s online dating debacles. Cassie’s hurt again. Heidi tries to help her mom see that she's better than this.

    “What is my mom thinking,” Heidi wondered, when she heard about Steve’s comments to her mom about losing weight.

    This. Now.

    After how hard Cassie had worked to build up her self-esteem, and Heidi praising her for standing up for herself with the other jerks she’d dated. Maybe Heidi would have expected this attitude last fall, when her mom was busy testing the dating waters. Before Cassie developed a thicker skin and advocated for herself.

    “C’mon, mom,” Heidi pleaded. “You’re really giving him another chance?”

    “Well, he was so sorry last night, and I really like him. He was disappointed in himself, and feels like he always does something to sabotage every relationship.”

    “Like this one?” Heidi pointed out. “Really, mom. It’s like Steve’s just trying to make excuses for saying what he’s obviously thinking.”

    She guided her mom over to the full length mirror.

    “Just look at yourself. I know you’ve been feeling good about your body and what you’re wearing. What happened?” Heidi asked her.

    Cassie turned from side to side and admitted, “I actually was getting used to how I look in my clothes. Up until last night. Then, I started trying on different outfits, noticing how nothing can disguise my problem areas. Especially here.” Cassie pointed at her mid-section.

    “That’s from having two children, mom,” Heidi said.

    “Steve’s comments did that: made you doubt yourself. And like Jessica told you: every time you eat something unhealthy or decide not to exercise. Heck, every time he doesn’t reach out to touch you, you’ll wonder if he’s secretly thinking about your weight.”

    Cassie sputtered, “But he’s right, you know. I do want to lose those 20 pounds I put on after leaving your dad. And maybe when I do, what he said will motivate me to keep it off.”

    Heidi marched over to her mom and spun her around so she’d have to really hear her.

    “Mom. Do you know how many of my friends are so influenced by what their boyfriends think of them that they can hardly do anything for themselves? Who Snapchat their potential outfits? Who wouldn’t dare get a different hair color until getting approval from their boyfriend?”

    Heidi continued, on a roll. “I used to be that way, too. For whatever reason, I used to care more about what others thought of me than I seemed to think about myself. But I’ve changed. Maybe it’s having Tony in my life: someone who’s known me through all my ups and downs and loves me anyway. Maybe it’s seeing my friends beat themselves up over imperfect hair days, acne breakouts or a reply text that takes just a little too long. Or watching friends like Rachel, who has crashed and burned at 15 years old more times than a woman in her 30s. Who is so down on the idea of love...and feels unworthy unless she has an adoring boyfriend.”

    Cassie plopped down on the papasan, tears forming in her eyes. “Honey, I’m sorry that you feel so much pressure. Being a teenager is much worse than when I was your age.”

    “It’s not even that, mom. I think what changed it for me, meaning my relationship with Tony, was watching you this past year. Settling for men who were clearly not good enough for you. Trying desperately to make yourself into someone they could see a future with, and potentially love. Reinventing yourself for all the wrong reasons. Seriously...the idea that you’d have to reinvent yourself at all is beyond me. I know you said that you and dad grew apart and you’re not the same person as when you got married. But that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. The right guy will love you and respect you for who you are. You've always told me that.”

    Both of them were crying now.

    “I don’t know why I have such a hard time taking my own advice,” Cassie finally said.

    “Because we are always hardest on ourselves, mom.”

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    1. Hi Sandy,
      Oh, this scene! I have to admit I have a friends who are divorced and struggling with online dating so this feels like it taps so perfectly into all of that.
      I like that Heidi is the one advising her mom--a nice switch! I definitely feel her frustration and that's so believable. What daughter wants to see her mom acting like a teenager?
      For me, the dialogue works well, but the narrative paragraphs, especially at the beginning, feel less like I'd expect from Heidi. Maybe it's that she refers to herself as "Heidi" and her mom as "Cassie." When you begin revising, I'd maybe rework those. As an example, take this paragraph:
      After how hard Cassie had worked to build up her self-esteem, and Heidi praising her for standing up for herself with the other jerks she’d dated. Maybe Heidi would have expected this attitude last fall, when her mom was busy testing the dating waters. Before Cassie developed a thicker skin and advocated for herself.
      REVISE: Heidi wanted to scream. After all they'd been through and how hard she'd worked to build up her mom's strength. It wasn't like last fall. Dating had been new then. But now? Were they really back where they'd started?

      Hopefully that makes sense!

      Thanks for sharing and keep moving forward. Since this is a scene from near the end, I hope that means you're nearly through an entire draft! :)

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    2. Amy,
      I love that advice. You're totally right. I'm working on the narrative pieces right now. They sound so much better the way you suggested. Thank you so much!

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    3. Sandy, what do you mean toward the END of your YA novel?!?! Have you written that much in a month?!?! I'd be so freaking jealous!!! And Amy gives spot on feedback for REVISION when you get there. <3

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    4. I wish, Gae. I'm about 12,000 words in. Wrote the first 5 chapters, and then the last 5. Now, I just need to connect the dots. :) Probably not the typical writing process...but then again, is there any such thing?

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    5. Nope! It's a perfect way to do it. Carry on! <3

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    6. Also, 12K words is AMAZING!!! GO YOU!!!!

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  18. Hi Gae and Amy,

    Happy Friday! At this point, this is the very beginning of the YA novel I'm working on. Excited to hear any thoughts, and thanks to Amy for sharing that great excerpt!

    Charlie hadn’t been trying to be insensitive. In fact, she had been sitting here on this big, cold rock for the last two hours running it over and over in her head, and she didn’t see how it could be that. “You have to take me to Bella.” That was what she had been saying when her mother started weeping again, that her sister could not be buried in that tiny box without the tag being cut out of the back of that dress. It was cotton, and soft, she knew that. Dad had found it at the store, there hadn’t been anything at home that would work, and he had listened to all her instructions, except for the one. She could not be buried with that tag, it would bother her, would turn the back of her neck red and itchy and she would not like it.
    It wasn’t his fault, Charlie had told him, he wasn’t used to doing that kind of shopping. Mom was used to it so she knew about the tags, but she knew it was hard for her just now, she hadn’t wanted to go. Hadn’t wanted to do much of anything, hadn’t gotten dressed yet, but had been moving slowly to different spots around the house and staring blankly in her bathrobe--the soft one. Charlie liked that one, liked to sit in Mom’s lap or beside her and draw circles in the fabric on the left arm with her fingers. But she hadn’t been able to get near her mother since it happened, had felt a great big wall between them. That had never happened before.
    It started simply enough, she had only wanted to go and cut the tag. She knew it was closeby, knew that Bella’s tiny body was right across town, and maybe they had not even put her in her new dress yet. She wasn’t trying to upset her mother--wouldn’t she want Bella to feel comfortable, if she could? She had already been so broken, shouldn’t they do everything they could to be sure everything was how she was used to having it? Charlie had been trying to explain to her parents, which was frustrating, because they should have already known, her mother at least usually understood. But she had finally burst into tears, and her father had lost his temper. “Charlie! You are being insensitive! You mother is upset.” Of course she was upset. They all were. Everything would be melancholy from now on, Charlie knew that. Every milestone she hit would be tinged with a pain in her chest, because she would be thinking about how Bella was not there with her. Why were they acting like this didn’t matter, though? How could how they were feeling matter more than Bella now?

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    1. Emily, I hope Amy will be back again to chime in -- I never ask my guest host authors to stay past 5 pm their time on a Friday... but I'm hoping she does see this because you know how I feel about this opening and your writing. It takes my breath away!

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    2. Hi Emily,
      This scene really tugs at my heart! I love how you use the clothes tag to bring me in to the situation--the death, the crumbling parents, Charlie's own confusion and worry over Bella's comfort. It's very poignant and exactly the kind of detail that feels real and important. So nice!

      I'm wondering now what will Charlie do? Will she go to find Bella? I'm definitely interested in knowing more--and I want her to be okay. She's protective of her sister even though she's dead which is really wonderful characterization.

      My one question is about her age. My impression is that she's younger--late elementary or maybe middle school. But she talks about being melancholy, and about milestones, which feels older. I wonder if she might be more focused on ways her daily life will be different? A younger child would be (I think), and that might be a way you can give insight into the relationship and how Charlie's world is forever changed.

      Thanks for sharing and keep writing forward!

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    3. Thanks Gae and Amy, I so appreciate the feedback. Sorry for the late entry! Charlie is meant to be thirteen. Young in some ways, but an old soul as well!

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  19. I learn so much from reading Friday Feedback! Thank you for taking the time to do this. I enjoyed your excerpt today -- I wanted to know where she was going and why, and also more about the failed trip to Paris. This moment really came to life for me. My reading was a tiny bit interrupted by the phrase "as breath calms", whose breath, I wanted to know? It brought me out of the scene a bit. But otherwise, I was hooked and wanted to continue on the adventure with Grace.

    Here's my snippet for today, from the MG I'm revising:

    Mom’s shoe wasn’t on my bed anymore. It sat in the middle of the floor, next to a soggy tissue. The shoe was perfect. Not a single tooth mark. But the tissue was totally destroyed.

    Whisper peeked out from under the desk, giving me a guilty look as I tossed the shredded tissue mess in the garbage. “Don’t do that again, okay? Or if you do, leave it in Mom and Dad’s room.”

    So much for Operation Shoe Chew. Even if Whisper left soggy bits of tissue all over the house every day, it wouldn’t be enough to make my parents get rid of her.

    The one good thing about this experiment, besides revealing Whisper’s tissue obsession, was that I found out she liked the dog treats. The ones I’d put in the shoe had completely vanished.

    I walked Whisper around the neighborhood, keeping my ears open for the clatter of skateboard wheels. What should I try next? Maybe I could get her to chew up one of Mom’s drawings. But I couldn’t roll up a drawing with a treat inside. It had to look like it was Whisper’s idea, not mine. It might be easier to skip to the next thing on my list – digging in the garden.

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    1. Andrea, I'm fascinated (and a little upset in a good way) by this... why does she want to get rid of Whisper?! Why?!?!?! But that's intriguing too and so it makes me curious about so much. There's also a charm to this dog who won't really do too much more damage than chewing up tissues (Good Whisper!!!). Love what you've got here. Hope Amy might be back to chime in. Keep going!

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    2. Hi Andrea,
      What a great twist--I loved this scene for the unexpectedness of it all. Now I'm hooked and wondering why this girl wants to get rid of Whisper. (Putting the treats in the shoe was such a nice touch!)
      I'm wondering if it has something to do with the skateboard wheels. Whether it does or not, it's a nice detail because it gets me guessing

      You've done a great job laying out the problem here. And you get extra credit for creating such an unusual problem! Keep going--and I'd definitely suggest being as inventive as you can with ways for her to get rid of Whisper. It's very fun! (Does that make me evil?) ;)

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    3. Thank you for your thoughts, Gae and Amy! This section was from a part of my book that I'd gotten stuck on (the dreaded chapter 7), so I'm glad that this bit is working.

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  20. Dear Amy,
    Love the introduction. I think you accomplished what you set out to do. I'm going to share something if I can get this to go through. On vacation and not sure what tech is working and what isn't. This except is a few pages into my new WIP. Thanks for your input.

    "This dress is ridiculous," I say.
    Katerina bats my hand away from picking at the beads on the silver material. "I look like a stick of gum. And there's no sleeves. What's supposed to happen with my armpit sweat?"
    She hands me a bottle of deodorant. I toss it on the bed. "I'm not wearing this. Or these stupid long gloves. They go half way up my arms."
    Katerina sighs. "Maze, I tried to find an outfit that covers your scars and still looks attractive. "
    I checked the mirror. My transplant scars are never seen but the ones from my accident and the stabbing wear like tattoos gone bad. She's right though, you can't see them.
    Time to eat humble pie. "Thanks Katerina, I appreciate it. "

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    1. Hi, Martha, not sure if Amy will return or not -- I never ask hosts to stay past 5 pm their time -- so want to chime quickly in.

      I love this excerpt as it is both funny and intriguing and unexpectedly goes from light to dark pulling the reader in. I adore the stick of gum description and can picture it so perfectly. I am curious if this is the first time you mention the scars? If it is, wonder if you could finesse it a tiny bit (unless you intend this to be totally campy in which event do not!!) Not give away all the information all at once. E.g. maybe just use the word scars and leave us wondering about what kind of scars and why? But again, out of context, hard to know if this is good advice or off base! In any event, totally intriguing stuff! Keep going. :)

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    2. Hi Martha,

      Sorry for the late night reply, but here I am!

      I have to echo Gae because I loved the stick of gum description too. I also loved her wondering what happens to her sweat--that gives me a sense of your character and her sense of humor and the way she sees the world--with maybe just a hint of practicality. The introduction of the scars was a surprise, but I actually thought it worked fine in this situation--to go from light to something serious.

      You've got me wondering where she's going and if it's something important to her or not--I'm hoping for complications naturally. ;)

      Thanks for sharing and keep moving forward!

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  21. Hello Amy and Gae and Nate,
    Thanks for being here today and helping comment on people’s writing. I hope I’m not too late to chime in for Friday’s Feedback.

    Amy,
    Thanks for sharing part of your novel The Fall of Grace with us. What’s working is that I want to find out more about the unraveling and the journey that are happening in this story. You’ve set it up good to bring up lots of questions and what appears to be a strong problem. Is Grace in trouble? Lost her family and the wealth she used to have? Is she afraid to be apprehended by a legitimate authority figure or is she in danger from a bad person? She’s passing through Phoenix it sounds like. How long has she been there? Where is she going that’s cold?

    (I like to comment before I read the other feedback, so forgive me if this came up in comments above. I’ll be reading them later.) I have a question about a possible comparison you are making. In Phoenix, at the bus terminal, she can’t breathe and feels trapped and unmoving. In Paris, she wore pants that were made of breathable, moveable fabric. It seems connected, but the connection isn’t strong enough for me to “get it”, but if it’s inadvertent, then the double use of breathing and moving might be a distraction.
    I definitely want to read more, so I’ll be adding Grace’s book to my Want to Read list! :)

    * * * * *

    An excerpt from my middle grade novel – (Scott hasn’t been a character in this book, but he was a boy from last year who had moved to another school.)

    “Scott died last night at home. It was unexpected,” Mrs. Clayton, the principal, just started this class meeting letting it all out. Well, not all of it. She did not explain how he died. She stopped and stammered a bit. Then stopped. She was finished talking.

    Ms. R. spoke up to help. “Well, we thought it would be good to remember Scott today and let anyone who wanted to talk about him. What do you remember about him?” Ms. R asked. “I didn’t know Scott much because I was new last year, but I do remember seeing him in the hallway.”

    “Everyone hated him,” wailed Debra. She vomited it out, so explosively, it made everyone stop and take an extra breath. Debra had never showed any emotion. Why is she crying? most of them wondered. She surely hated him the most of all.

    “Well, maybe not everyone,” said Lisa. “He was Bailey’s friend.”

    Everyone looked at Bailey’s empty chair. “Hey, where’s Bailey?” said Marco loudly.

    “He didn’t come today, nitwit. Didn’t you even notice?” answered Ralph, who was sitting next to Marco.

    “No more nitwits,” whispered Lisa.

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    1. Hi, Denise, as I've mentioned above, I don't ask guest authors to come back after 5 pm their time, so you may be stuck with only me...

      You have a strong moment here, obviously full of emotion -- the loss of a young student. And then increasing the tension of the moment, the fact that at least one peer didn't like him. The one thing I'd watch out for is unintentionally overstating something so as to make it feel not authentic. The line where Debra wails and vomits it out so explosively feels like more than it needs to be and has me the reader distracted by trying to figure out if it could be such a strong reaction vs. just vomiting it out which seems like what a kid would do -- blurt insensitive information. Otherwise, it feels cartoonish.. and the follow up actions are hard to picture too. Did it really make EVERYONE take an extra breath? Had Debra NEVER shown any emotion, or did she rarely? Merely food for thought to keep writing organic and authentic unless you are going for a really hyperbolic sort of character in which case ignore everything I just wrote! :D

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    2. Hi Denise,

      You've got a nice scene set up, filled with conflict. And I love a good death in a book! It definitely leaves me with a lot of questions, and would make me keep reading. Personally, I wasn't sure who was telling the story in this snippet. At times the voice seemed distinctly kid, but at other times it felt more omniscient and too distant. I wanted to feel like I was inside a specific character's thoughts, to get their reaction to the news so I could compare and contrast it with how the other characters took the news.

      Also, the dialogue tags tripped me up. We have said, spoke, asked, wailed, answered, and whispered. I don't know about other editors out there but mine makes me stick with "said" most of the time because it becomes an invisible word, improving flow. Either that or she has me delete the dialogue tag altogether, which can make a scene more dramatic sometimes.

      Good luck!

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    3. Hi Denise,
      You've got a very dramatic moment here with a student's death. I felt like your final line, "no more nit wits" was really strong because it felt like a comment that had been said before--maybe to that girl. I'm not sure if this is a story about bullying, but I'm wondering about that now. And where is Bailey? Those are interesting questions that make me want to read on!

      Since we don't know Scott--haven't gotten to know him in the story, we'll take our cues of how to feel about him from the main character. It's not clear here who that is and who is telling us about this. Can you connect this to a person--make us "feel" this through their eyes? What does this mean to that person? How does it complicate or change their life? Understanding that will really help draw your reader even more into the story.

      Thanks so much for your feedback, as well. The "breath" and "breathable" were inadvertent, but I can see how you might make the connection. It's so interesting what people pick up on. If it's brilliant, I just take credit for it whether I meant to add it or not. :)

      Keep moving forward!

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    4. Wow, Gae, Betsy, and Amy, thank you so much for your input. I am really learning so much this month. I've got a long list of things to figure out and then practice -- character development, conflict, real problems the reader can identify with, just writing substantial word counts, plot (What's that? my writing screams), but today you've given me some goals I can work on. Today I will redo this scene, taking in your ideas. POV, dialogue tags (I knew that once upon a time, Betsy), being realistic and not hyperbolic (that was my hope, Gae).

      These are all literature elements that I teach, but now putting them into practice is humbling me. (In a good way!)

      And thank you, dear Amy, for your thoughtful feedback and questions to answer as I work. Thank you so much for coming back after 5 pm, too!

      Warmly,
      Denise

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  22. Thank you so much for commenting on our writing. Your time is greatly appreciated. This scene is part of a WIP. Prior to the scene, best friends, Sarah and Emily have been discussing their two adult children, who seem to have lost their way. They had been summer boyfriend/girlfriend for years until something went awry. In this scene, something goes terribly, terribly wrong.
    “Do you see the colors? Shiny! Orange! Red! Do you see them? Are you wearing sunglasses? Do they hide your soul? Show me your eyes!” Tim had been rambling on like this for a few minutes on the dock, as I sat in my kayak in the shallows.
    “Quit fucking around, Tim. You’re just being obnoxious, now,” I tilted my oar in the water and hit it just enough to splash him. Mandy and Reed came by in the canoe, so he jumped in the water and joined them. “What a wing nut,” I said turning back to Emily. “Your kid is nuts.”
    “He’s nuts, alright!” she said laughing. “I don’t know what is up with that kid.”
    Several hours later, Sarah walked down to see if Emily wanted to go for a sail. Something was definitely up. Sarah could hear the shouting from down the lake, “You are hiding the shiny! Are you Marshall? AreYOU Marshall? Am I? Oh! Shiny!”
    “What the hell is going on?” Sarah asked approaching the cottage. “Is Tim still being silly?” Emily turned to face her and Sarah could see the strain around her red tinged eyes. “Em? What’s going on?”
    “Tim took acid this morning and he isn’t coming down. No one really knows what happened other than that. We’ve been trying to get in touch with our cousin, a doctor, to see what we should do.” Emily slumped onto the porch steps and hung her head.

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    1. Thanks for sharing your scene!

      I have to say that I had no idea what was happening at the beginning, but once I found out that it was drugs, then it made sense. I think that can work--we're as confused as the characters in the story.

      For me, the scene works best when we're in the point of view of his friend. She thinks Tim is acting crazy and her response is exactly what I'd expect. I'm wondering why you switched to the mom's point of view after that? Do you need to do that? Can keep the story in the world of the teens? I'd recommend this for a couple of reasons. One, it's more confusing when you slip out of one character's head and into another. If you definitely want to do that, think about breaking them up by chapter. Two, if this is a young adult novel, you want to focus your story on the teens. How will they deal with what's happening? This can be a hugely dramatic scene--so much great stuff to delve into here if they are teens faced with a friend who might be in danger of dying from drugs.

      If this isn't the direction you want to take your story, then ignore my comments. It's hard sometimes when I'm only reading a short passage. But this is definitely an important issue and I wish you luck as you move forward!

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  23. Hi Gae and Amy,

    Love the writing sample you shared, especially the main character's voice in the bit about not breaking the law. For today I thought I'd share a poem from a side project I'm tinkering with. It would be a compilation of poems that describe the career span of a teacher.

    Mrs. Rose Goes Viral

    It all started with one nose
    One single, sniffling button nose
    One sneeze, two coughs,
    then it caught both the Joe’s

    Around three tables and up four rows
    Next came five girls in tiny hair bows
    With bellyaches to body aches
    from their heads to their toes

    It may have started with a nose
    But by the day’s final close
    One sneeze, two coughs
    Poor Mrs. Rose

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    1. Hi Betsy,
      This made me smile--thank you for that!
      I love the idea of a compilation of poems. This is so fun. The title is perfect as is the ending.

      I've tinkered around with rhyming picture books, but quickly realized that rhyming is an art unto itself and much harder than it looks. I'm no expert, but so much of this does read smoothly (Though maybe something is a little off in the first stanza with "the Joe's"? ) I'd just suggest you keep reading it out loud...and keep working on it!
      :)

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    2. Thanks, Amy. I'll do that. That's the one line that I can't seem to get quite right. I'm thinking this will wind up being a book specifically for teachers with a sense of humor, rather than aimed at kids. Thanks again!

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