Sunday, November 9, 2014

First Page Critique Blog Hop -- SPOOKY JANE

Michelle Hauck is hosting a fun blog hop -- a chance for some feedback on your ever-critical first page. Here's more about it.

Here's mine -- looking forward to your thoughts!!


Upper MG Paranormal 

The day after her grandmother died, twelve-year old Ivy Jane sat alone in the back yard breathing in the unexpected lilacs. They never bloomed in late August.

She shifted slightly on the thick carpet of grass, the muscles in her legs humming slightly from the faint pulse of energy beneath her. Leftover tears thrummed against her throat.

“Dude, you trying to get a suntan or something?”

Ivy opened her eyes and then rolled them theatrically at her once-favorite cousin, now casting his Q-tip shaped shadow over them both.

“Ha ha. Yeah. Cause I need one so bad. And since when did you start calling people ‘dude’?”

“Since I hardly ever see you, I guess there’s lots you don’t know about me anymore.”

“What do you mean, ‘hardly ever see you.’ Wasn’t I with you yesterday?”

“You know what I mean.”

She knew. And Hunter was right. He – and all the rest of her cousins – had changed a lot in the years since she’d last visited, thought Ivy sadly. “I didn’t hear you arrive. Did you walk?”

“Yeah. Sort of. Mom dropped me off at the end of the driveway. She had an errand to run for the open house tomorrow. She said she’d be back to pick up Aunt Eliza so they can go to the funeral home to arrange the service.”

Ivy blanched and kept her eyes on the grass, her right hand absently fingering imaginary piano keys on her thigh.


  1. I'm torn. You're developing an interesting situation here, and I enjoy your writing, but this is all backstory and expositon.

    If there were more of a feeling of forward progress, rather than just looking back, I think I'd be sold.

  2. Hi!

    I don't read much MG, unless it's riddled with zombies and adventure, compliments of my three boys! With that said, I'll do my best to give some feedback.

    In the third paragraph, the use of 'dad' is a bit confusing. It's used twice and it may confuse younger readers. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I didn't realize Ivy's dad was directly addressing grandma and referencing to her father. I hope that made sense!

    Starting with the lilacs blooming when they shouldn't be was great, it totally tied in with green thumb thing.

    Also, your name this! You've done a great job connecting little things that really make the reader connect.

    Best of luck with this!

  3. The world of MG is as different from my usual YA as Adult is, but I'm a little more familiar with it. I know it's key to establish the setting as much as the character and I think you did that.

    The one thing I'd say is that I think(?) that her dad is not Grandma Livvy's son, but son-in-law. Or, alternately he is, but the green-thumb skipped a generation. It would help to understand why dad's skeptical, or just pull that latter in the story. I'm not sure it helps this early.

    With MG, you can tell me things and I'll go with it, it doesn't need to be quite so rationalized the moment you say it. Explaining can come later.

  4. I love the language you use! And I found the electrical plug line especially great, although I wasn't sure if it fit anymore once I got to the end of the fourth paragraph.

    I also stumbled over the dad aspect as Amy mentioned, but I understood it the second time I read it. If there's any way to make that a little clearer, it would be great. Good luck!

  5. I love your writing style. I felt as if I was right there with the character. Excellent job with the descriptions. I also love the line, "Perhaps they were mourning too."

    I agree with the posters who said the dad mention in the third paragraph is a bit confusing. Is it the father's grandfather he's referring to? If so, maybe he could say, "Grandpa So-and-So used plugs of sod. . ."

    Also, if there was a way to weave some of this back story in a little later, I think it would be great. MG readers are tricky because you have to hook them early or you lose them. But personally, I'd keep reading :-)

    I didn't get a paranormal feel from this, more contemporary but that's not necessarily a bad thing. In my opinion, the best books are the ones that surprise you.

    Overall, I enjoyed this. Good luck!

  6. Thanks so much everyone!! I've made some edits reflecting your comments- I hope I've clarified the confusion over the dads (!). Good catch - I really appreciate it. I also tried to tighten the narrative so the backstory doesn't ramble...

    1. Actually what I'm trying to say is tighten the backstory so it's not too long because I agree with all of you -- too much (sometimes ANY) backstory right here is a killer!!!

  7. I read very little MG but have been known to quench the inner-child so I'll do my best.

    Your first para is lovely but I'd take out "now, not" and just say they don't normally bloom in late August

    I agree there is a lot of exposition but I'm digging it as it's giving me a sense of who Ivy is (inside)
    Having said that, I don't think para #2 works the way you hoped. It might have something to do with two questions in one para or the tone, but I think it needs to be re-worded.

    I also think you could cut back (a little) in para #3 and move the story forward. I basically suggesting a little tweaking to make it flow into the current quicker, otherwise I like it :)

  8. I don't normally read MG so I'm going to do my best. I liked how the first paragraph started out with the mystery of the lilacs growing so late in the season, but then I kinda got a little bogged down with the back story. I know its only the first 250 words, but where are the stakes? What is your main character needing to do?
    Like I said, its only the first 250 words o maybe that comes later, but I feel like its missing a hook to keep me reading. I love your voice though. It has a nice flow.

  9. Thanks so much all. It's clear I need to kill a darling, so I've drastically cut the backstory. Here's hoping it's better!

  10. The fact that the family has a gift of a VERY green thumb, this definitely peaked my interest! The descriptions sometimes feel overly poetic, and at first, I had to re-read the "unexpected lilacs" because it sounded like it was a typo or something - that is, until I read on and realized it was because they didn't bloom this late in August - but it might throw other readers off too, so I just thought I'd let you know.

    I feel like, while the setting for the story is well introduced, I don't know much about the main character (I had to scroll back up to remember her name because she didn't stick out much to me), it feels like we get a lot of the past, but not much from who the reader will be following in this story.

    Hope this helps!
    Good luck!

  11. Disclaimer: I don't read a lot of MG (yet...niece is getting there, though =)!). So, take that as you will for my comments =).

    I feel like I'm in Ivy's head right away. I was drawn in by the descriptions, but, having read to a 6 year old a lot, I think most younger readers are going to get bored right away with the descriptions. Not sure what ages MG covers, so if that comment is way off no worries if you ignore it. I felt like you were writing more for an adult crowd with the depth of the opening but at the same time, it drew me in.

    I do like the dialogue, and I think you've got your character age appropriate in that realm. Best of luck!

  12. I like the looking back to the grandmother. She'd just died the day before so things she'd done/said would be on the MC's mind. Were the lilacs her grandmother's favorite flower? I'm guessing there's a reason the lilacs are blooming as opposed to something else.

  13. I AM an MG writer, so I hope I can help a little.

    I got interested in paragraph two. I suggest pasting paragraph one somewhere else and referring to it when you need an important detail.

    For example, The paragraph with "except the lilacs today" can be added to: 'Their perfume twined delicately with Ivy’s heavy sadness. Perhaps they were mourning Grandma's death too.'

    Then we immediately understand the Grandma had died recently, and that Ivy Jane is sitting among the lilacs, blooming way out of season.

    I agree with an above comment that we need a sense of the connection between the lilacs and Ivy Jane's relationship with her grandma.

    I also suggest that we don't need a last name yet. Ivy Jane Montgomery is a mouthful when read aloud, and since Grandma's name isn't Grandma Montgomery, Ivy Jane should suffice for the first paragraph.

    I think you started in the right place for this book, but I don't feel the emotion of the opening page. You say that Ivy Jane is sad, and why, but I don't feel her sadness. Is she crying? Maybe she's run out of tears, and has given to reflection. Is the pungent breath of the lilacs comforting her in her time of sorrow? Do her limbs feel heavy on the grass, (heavy with sadness) being soothed by electrical current under her?

    I would read on, (it sounds like the kind of story I'd like) but I would not have guessed paranormal. I see no hint of outside forces - no ghosts, or supernatural beings. Unless the supernatural force is nature itself, and Ivy Jane's gift is communicating, manipulating, or encouraging it.

    From this passage, I would guess Magical Realism - especially since Grandma Livvy says this is not magic. I mention this, because Magical Realism MG is more marketable than Paranormal MG.

    One more suggestion - when she remembers Grandma Livvy's words, it's a little long... Maybe you could break it up with something the Grandma was doing at the time, (e.g. coaxing a rosebud, watering a daffodil, or pruning the lilacs)

    I think you have a fun book here, and I can't wait to see its polished version on the bookshelves.

    1. Thank you so much -- these are all great suggestions! Working on them now ....

  14. I don't read in the Middle Grade area, so I'll do what I can--take it or leave it! :) I love the idea of such a light, life-filled "power", especially in juxtaposition with the grandma's death. I initially read your post before you had revised and now again after, and like some of the changes that you've made already. I would consider rewording to this: “It’s not magic," Grandmother Livvy had once said, "not by a long shot. We just have a green thumb. A VERY green thumb.” I like this line: "And so even in Livvy’s yard, everything bloomed and died as it was supposed to – except the lilacs today." The lilacs definitely seem significant. As long as they continue to be, that's a good thing! Good luck!

  15. Thanks again everyone -- you made this much better. I truly appreciate your thoughts!!

  16. I'm not in the MG area, either, but I'll give it my best shot :)

    The thing I got caught on the most was the first paragraph. It feels a little choppy as it is right now, and it's the third sentence throwing me off, I think. I would try to weave it in with the second sentence, because right now it feels like a fragment all on its own and it's a little bit of a stutter in what is otherwise a really solid first 250. For me, at least :P

    You've done well at weaving in backstory without making it overwhelming, which when I read other comments is probably the result of a good bout of editing but it's very good. Also, you've got the voice down right, so that is good as well. This is great!

  17. Hi Heather,

    I LOVE this! I love the magical realism, whimsical, sad feel to it. I didn't read your previous revisions so I'm jumping in fresh at this point.

    Just a couple little nit-picks to me are 'so perhaps they were mourning too' didn't jive for me. Maybe they knew she was mourning...but I wouldn't visualize flowers to be mourning as they are blooming. Does that make sense.

    I would use only one adjective for the grass--thick or soft. I think one implies the other.

    Last, 'her legs humming from the faint pules of electricity below.' I like this except for 'below' It made me think below the grass, below to what? An underground machine? I quickly realized what you meant but it made me stop for a minute. I wonder if there's a word or words you could replace below with to make it more vivid like the rest of your beginning?

    Just my 2 cents. I hope it helps. But, I really like your writing style and unique images in this!

    Good luck,

  18. I agree with some of the posters above. The only paranormal link might be the electricity, which you want to describe a bit more. Having a green thumb isn't paranormal, at least I don't think it is.

    Also, flowers dying might be more in line with mourning, at least for me.

    Maybe more of the story goal in the beginning would help orient readers.