First Impact: MG Fantasy from Kristen Wixted

First off, I have to thank Matt MacNish for promoting this feature and single-handedly filling up October with submissions. You should thank him too, because until those submissions came in, there wasn't going to be a prize this month (and it's a good prize; keep reading).

Second, the winner of September's prize -- $10 for Amazon/B&N or a 20-page crit from me -- is PATCHI! Please contact me and let me know which prize you want.

And thank all of you for your thoughts. keep them coming. The authors always tell me how much they appreciate it.

Lastly, I have a special prize for October: a 15-page critique from the amazing and talented Jodi Meadows! To win, leave a critique on any First Impact post this month. Purchasing a copy of Jodi's fantastic INCARNATE won't improve your chances, but it will keep you good company and cure acne (maybe). Plus! Dragons!

Somebody stop me. We have a critique to do.

Disclaimer: This is all just my opinion. Feel free to ignore it. Overall comments at the end.

First Page
I like this opening. But unless kids
do get locked away in this story, I'd
snip that bit. Get to the point.
Not all attics are full of shadows, spider webs, and ugly hatboxes dotted with evidence of unwelcome creatures; those are the kind of attics where children get locked away. Some attics smell like lavender soap, are strewn with treasures, and if the right child should come in at the right moment, are full of possibility.

I was initially confused, as "diaries"
are different from ships' logs.

Love the voice at the end.
The treasures in Aunt Tibby’s attic were mostly old diaries. Crooked, nearly toppling stacks of antique journals and ships’ logs covered the wooden floorboards and wide shelves, because the museum had run out of room and Aunt Tibby wasn’t about to throw them away. Heavens no.

This snipped bit slows things down, I
think. And it's info you can give later.
Somewhere, in one of the piles of antique leather and cloth-covered books was a particular diary that Eve, Aunt Tibby’s grand-niece, couldn’t wait to find. It was the key to her questions, because now that she was eleven she had lots of questions, about her Mama.

Good description (all of this is, btw),
but now that we have a goal (Mama),
I immediately want to know more. I
think some of this could be snipped
to get us there faster.
So for months, every time she visited her great aunt on Martha’s Vineyard, Eve put on her favorite old jeans and sweatshirt—clothes that she would never be allowed to wear at home in New York City—and she scoured. She searched. She investigated, explored, and rummaged around in the attic. She flipped through yellowed books, she tossed aside threadbare scarves and feathered hats so she could get at more old books. One time, to reach a pile of diaries that was off in a corner, she was even forced to pick up, with two reluctant fingers, a ratty, blonde wig and fling it aside.

Adam's Thoughts
I don't have a lot to say except to elaborate on my comments there. The voice, and especially the descriptions, are really good. I get the feeling I'm about to step into a mystery or possibly an adventure.

My only real complaint is at the end, and honestly that could be just because it's cut off as a first page. If the very next line was like, "Her mama had died when she was little . . . " or else, "Then one day she found it," I probably wouldn't have a problem with the length of that last paragraph at all.

So I'm just being nitpicky, really, because I don't know how much longer I have to wait to get to the meat. This first page is enticing (that's why I want the meat!), and though I do see occasional tangents that slow things down, they're not so bad that I wouldn't keep going.

What do the rest of you think?


R.S. Bohn said...

It's an intriguing set-up, with an air of mystery. I would end the first sentence at hatboxes. The "unwelcome creatures" makes more clunkiness.

I love detail, and there's a great deal of that here, as well as giving a good sense of how the author would write. The author seems to have really envisioned their world, and I enjoy diving deep into something, really getting immersed. The only issue is that there seems to be a bit much detail, worked into sentences that make them a bit too long and, again, clunky. It slows the pace, and would be best left in the book itself. For instance, "reluctant fingers" at the end.

I sometimes have a problem in seeing the forest for the trees -- so if it were me, I'd tighten up the entire query, keeping an eye on pacing and flow, and then read again. There's something nagging at me in regards to what the protagonist is going to find, how that isn't really mentioned, and how that effects the overall story -- but again, I can't say much until I've read a tighter work.

Matthew MacNish said...

Before I even read - hah! Jodi is awesome, so that is quite the prize.

Also, thanks for the shout out.

Matthew MacNish said...

Now, I don't like blog comments as a format for critique, so I'll try to improve this by turning it into a hyphen-list. Lists are awesome.

- I don't like the last clause in the first paragraph ending with a state-of-being verb. This is your opening, make it shine! The attic should be brimming, or overflowing, or bursting at the seams with, or erupting ... anyway, you get the point. A more vivid, more active verb, especially one that connects to a child's imagination, would make this already fun opening shine even brighter.

- Adam's point about the props not matching is a valid one. Can you just say old books instead of diaries? Since books covers journals and ship's logs?

- Wooden and floorBOARDS is redundant.

- There's a comma splice in paragraph three. About her Mama is not a clause.

- The final paragraph is awesome. It had me right there with Eve, grounded completely in the scene, tearing through old rags to find the book! And I respectfully disagree with Adam that it goes on too long, but then I'm a sucker for description.

Okay. That's all I see. Other than that one point, I completely agree with Adam's feedback. I think you've got a very fun story going here, and for some reason, it reminds me of Tintin, except younger ... and a girl. I love Tintin.

Also, I know Kristen IRL! Or, at least, I've met her. She's awesome, so it's a lot of fun to see her here, getting some great feedback.

Barbara Watson said...

Ah! Hi Kristen! (I know her too.) And I won't comment on the first page--because I beta read this entire story last fall--other than to to say I LOVE what you've done with the opening! It brings readers into the story in an entirely different way than before. Love, love the changes.

Patchi said...

This is a great opening. It has voice and the scene is set so vividly that I can picture Eve in the attic looking for her mother's diary. Great descriptions.

By the way, you could solve the genealogy problem by saying "Great Aunt Tibby's attic" in the second paragraph, even if Eve only calls her Aunt Tibby.

Myrna Foster said...

Eve calls Tibby her great-aunt in the first sentence of the last paragraph. It's already handled.

Okay. Last sentence of second to last paragraph: I'd think Eve would have had questions about her mother her whole life. I would like more here. Was there an inciting incident, something in particular that she needs to know? Why can't she ask her great-aunt? Does she just want to read her mother's words? As the focus of her search, which appears to be the focus of the story, I feel like this could and should be more specific.

I like the voice and the description. I agree, though, that the sentence with ship logs is confusing. I like knowing that there are ship logs there, but you could rearrange your description to make it easier on readers.

I would keep reading.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Adam's comment at the end about "getting to the meat." I think the strongest graph is the last one. Don't bury the lead, as my journalism instructors always said, applies to fiction as well.

My suggestion would be to start with the action in the fourth paragraph and let us meet Eve right away. Then sprinkle in the detailed description as you go instead of front loading it as you have now.

Example: "The matted blond hair landed on top of a weathered trunk in the attic's back corner. The ratty wig left a coating of dust on Eve's fingers. She wiped her hand on the back pocket of her favorite pair of old jeans -- jeans she'd never be allowed to wear at home in New York City. Returning to her tossing, she flung a threadbare scarf, an XX, and an XXX, all in pursuit of uncovering the yellowed diary buried underneath the pile of Aunt Tibby's "treasures."

Good luck!

Nicole Zoltack said...

Adam, great critique!

This sounds like the start of a fun story. I would keep reading.

The only thing that really jumped out at me was why did she have questions now that she was eleven? What is the significance of her being eleven have to do with her having questions about her mama?

And since you say her mama, the 'm' should be lowercased. If you just said Mama, the 'm' should be capitalized.

Steve MC said...

Great edits on what she could trim, but I'd go further and actually start with the second paragraph:

The treasures in Aunt Tibby’s attic weren't ugly hatboxes coated in spiderwebs, but crooked, nearly toppling stacks of antique journals...

The line about her mother might give a hint of what the mystery is, like, "now she was eleven she felt she should know the truth of what happened when her mother's ship went down."

The last line, about the wig, should be trimmed, and you might actually ground the last paragraph in a scene, instead of a summary.

You know, "This was her third visit to Martha's Vineyard that she'd sneaked away and come up in her sweatshirt and old jeans, and as she tossed aside scarves and flipped through yellowed books, she knew she'd keep going till she found it."

By the way, while reading it, I was like huh, another YA on Martha's Vineyard. And an attic... And then I realized this was the same work I read her query for over at Matt's about a year ago, and I liked it then as much as now.

Kristen Wixted said...

Thank you so much everyone for your thoughtful critiques! I actually had revised it a little bit the other day, and I did a few of the things you mentioned so I was feeling pretty smart! Got a few new ideas now...

Thanks again, Adam, for the opportunity to have my precious first page critiqued. Openings are ridiculously hard.

@Maine Character--lol! Your comments always have a little personalized zing to them :).

Margo Berendsen said...

I just love the contrast between the two types of attics! That hooked me right away. All of Adam's comments are dead on and I can't think of anything to add; but again those first two sentences are brilliant! I'd definitely read on.

Unknown said...

I would agree, except to say that if that last paragraph were in fact snipped, I would add it back in later. I love it! I don't want it to be thrown out.

Melissa said...

I really like the starting paragraph. Attics are very interesting and mysterious.
The only idea I have is to switch the last two paragraphs. I think the story would flow a little easier and the last sentence could lead into a few comments about the Mama. (If the writer was going there.) I would certainly want to keep reading. I have insatiable curiosity!

The Dieselpunkette said...

I agree that the starting paragraph, the line about kids locked in attics implies that this is going to be a kids lock in an attic sort of story - if that's not what you want the story to be, it might need to go. The opening paragraphs are the place where the reader is trying to get a sense of where the story's going, and you don't want to misdirect them.

I'd also like to get a sense that something's about to happen, early on. Everything in here so far talks about things that have been happening for some time, and generally the story starts with the day something different happens. I think you could squeak in, even just an insinuation that today Eve is going to find something interesting, or something to that effect, just in the first paragraph, to give the story promise and momentum.