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Dianne Salerni : Writer of Teen and Middle Grade Fiction | First Impressions: 27 DAISIES

First Impressions: 27 DAISIES

Happy New Year, everyone! Welcome, 2014!
I’m starting off the year with First Impressions posts on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I’m also planning to celebrate 4 years of blogging this month with a GIVEAWAY of one of everything I’ve ever published.Come back next Monday to learn more about!
Today, I’m sharing the first page of a YA Contemporary by Christy Hintz, titled 27 DAISIES.
CHAPTER ONE–SHELBY

Mom is at the stove.  I stop, confused.  She doesn’t turn, and for three seconds I wonder who this woman is and what she did with my mother.
            “What…what are you doing?” I ask.
            She turns and smiles.  She actually smiles.  “Making spaghetti.”
            When I don’t speak or move or breathe because I am afraid of this moment, afraid maybe that if I move I will smash it into a kazillion teardrops, she says, “Doesn’t spaghetti sound marvelous?”
            It does.  I can’t believe it but it does.  I bring my backpack to the room I am using to sleep in and do homework in and hurry back to the kitchen.  I take out milk and find French bread on the counter.  I slice it up with a bread knife that has never been used and spread butter and sprinkle garlic and find parmesan cheese to grate.  Mom hands me a baking sheet, and she is
            humming.                                                                                                                   
            I look at her again and examine her hair—did she cut it?  Her eyelashes are wearing mascara and it is not smudged black underneath her eyes.
            I sit and she serves me my food.   We don’t pray, but she asks, “How was your day?”
            I shrug my right shoulder. 
            The spaghetti is sweet and peppery and there are pieces of tomato and onion.  It tastes like—
            “I always loved your dad’s spaghetti sauce.  We still have six jars to use.  We’ll save them for special occasions.”
            I stop mid-bite and wait for the torrent of tears. 
None come.              
She twists noodles around her fork and eats them. 
            “What’s the occasion tonight?” I ask.  It’s been 10 months, 27 days since we’ve really looked at one another, since I’ve seen her smile or talk with this…this spark of life. 
            Her wide eyes look at me, see me.  “I’ve been waking up feeling better, like a black veil has been lifted and the world brightened.”  She looks away, at the refrigerator, or somewhere in her mind.  There is a brightness to her face.  I don’t recognize the emotion.  “Someone took the 215 pounds off my shoulders that has been pushing me down.”
            My heart hits my stomach and the impact echoes.
Someone took the 215 pounds off my shoulders that has been pushing me down.

Wow, that is quite a line, and it overturned my first impression of what was going on in this scene. I thought the mom was grieving for a husband who’d died. Now I’m wondering if he left her for another woman. (But then again, if that’s what happened, why wouldn’t she throw his homemade spaghetti sauce in the trash, rather than save it for special occasions?)
This first page whets my interest in the mother – who is fully described – and definitely I want to know what happened to leave her in a state of depression, and what snapped her out of it.
However, I don’t feel very connected to the main character, and that’s the biggest thing I think the author needs to work on to improve this page. I’m not suggesting the author start in a different place or make the mother less important. However, I would like to see more internal thoughts from the main character.
Why is she using a room for sleeping and homework, but doesn’t call it her room? Where does she normally expect to find her mother when she comes home? What was on her mind before she entered the house and saw this startling change? How does it affect her? These are just some of the things that might be woven into the existing scene so that readers connect with her better.
Character, Voice, and Conflict. I’ve been told those are the three top things an agent looks for in the opening pages of a YA novel. Conflict is here – some type of dysfunctional family turmoil. There’s a good beginning to Voice.  But the Character herself eludes me on this page. Readers, what do you think? What would you like more of (or less of) in this scene?
Christy, thanks for sharing your first page with us in the first month of the new year! You can find Christy at her blog, Erica and Christy, and don’t forget to stop by Mainewords for Marcy’s feedback on this same page.

16 Responses to First Impressions: 27 DAISIES

  1. The excerpt was definitely engaging and I wondered about all the same things. I agree about being so focused on the mother, the main character feels a little two dimensional. Happy 2012!

  2. ha! typo! I meant 2014. I’m not THAT out of touch…;)

  3. Christy! I’m so excited to see you on the blogoshere.

    Okay, first impressions. After the first paragraph I was hooked. I had to know why Mom didn’t seem like mom. I got a little tripped up on this line: “I bring my backpack to the room I am using to sleep in and do homework in and hurry back to the kitchen.” Had to read it twice. Too many small words, no commas. Rewording would help with the clarity.

    I’m going to disagree with the others. I think we’re seeing enough into the MC’s head for a first page. We’ll have the rest of the chapter to get to know our MC, and I love that he/she(?) is more concerned about Mom and him/herself. That speaks volumes about the character.

    I have another question already in place to continue me reading–what happened to Sad–so other than gender clarification, I think this is an excellent first page.

  4. Robin says:

    I am going to agree with Crystal. I am okay with what I know about the MC for this brief bit. Of course, there is an expectation that the MC will blossom as we go along.

    There were two sentences that had me going back and re-reading them. One was the sentence that Crystal mentioned. The other was “Her eyelashes are wearing mascara and it is not smudged black underneath her eyes.” I had to read it several times and the recurring thought that she wears mascara somewhere other than her eyes just wouldn’t let me go. It totally took me out of the story. I think “She is wearing mascara and it is not smudged black underneath her eyes,” would work much better.

    Nitpicky stuff. I really liked it.

  5. I really liked the line Dianne pulled out. I do agree with her critique. It felt like too much focus on her mom and not enough on the MC and her conflict. Good writing and you left us with lots of things to wonder about, like where’s the dad and why they aren’t living in a home. At least that’s what I’m guessing.

  6. Tiana Smith says:

    I actually loved everything about this passage and felt like it was a perfect balance of showing but not telling. I think if you go more into her internal thoughts, you’ll give too much away too soon and I like it the way it is 🙂

  7. SA Larsenッ says:

    I knew I recognized Christy! *waves at Christy

    Wonderful thoughts/suggestions, Dianne. I had a bit of trouble with the first few lines. I think cleaning up the physical actions of the mother to only two would make this a little clearer. I wasn’t sure of Mom’s demeanor at the onset, which took me out of the scene.

  8. Thanks very much, Dianne, for hosting my first page and for the thoughtful critique! I very much appreciate everyone’s suggestions. For some, I’m hoping the next 300 words isn’t too late to share my MC’s inner thought’s/reactions to her mom’s change of actions/emotions, or to solidify the fact that this isn’t her home, that they’ve recently moved. I’ll have to do some thinking on whether or not to trim down the focus on Mom, and possibly add some reflection in the following chapters on how her change of focus, from Mom to herself, leads her to change her life and branch out…away from her sorrow to seek some happiness, even after an unwelcome, sad change in her life. THANK YOU!!! <3 Christy

    PS…it’s so fun to see some FB and old blogging buddies out and about. I’ve missed you all, having been away from the blogosphere since school started. I miss it and everyone in it!

  9. Lexa Cain says:

    For a YA Contemp, this feels perfect to me. The voice is genuine, and there’s tension coming across via the mc’s palpable fear. The only fault is there’s no real hook, but it’s Contemp, so there doesn’t really have to be. Good luck, Christy!

  10. Nice writing, very tight and spare. The eyelashes confused me, as they did for Robin.

    I was also confused by the line about the room the MC is using to sleep in (so apparently it’s not their home), yet at the same time the MC and her mom both seem perfectly at home in the kitchen, knowing exactly where everything is. If it was a new house/different house, I probably wouldn’t know where the bread knife is.

    Also agree with Dianne that the line about the 215 pounds is amazing, but at the same time confusing. Is mom grieving or relieved?

  11. Jemi Fraser says:

    Very nice! I felt pulled in by the whole scene. I liked the voice and phrasing (the room I sleep in (might delete the homework bit to simply) and the lashes wearing mascara…). Definitely would read on!

  12. Robin says:

    I agree with Dianne in that I need a little bit more of the MC…or at least a little more to ground me into the scene. I’m trying to understand what’s happening the first half of the page. That said, I definitely felt deeply for their sorrow, for the joy and pain of the first cooked meal in so long, for their loss, though I’m not sure if by death or something else.

    It’s a rather beautiful start, maybe just something in the first paragraph so we understand the Mom’s sorrow?

    THe 215 line is wonderful.

  13. I like the voice here.

    Some things can be tweaked. I’d take “confused” out of the beginning. We get the confusion in the next line. I also didn’t get the “pray” part because it didn’t go with the question.

    You definitely set up a bunch of questions in mind. I’m intrigued!

  14. Pk Hrezo says:

    I like the choppy, immediate feel to this. I was drawn in and eager to get to the bottom of it. Honestly, from the first para, I felt the mom was something paranormal. But then later I got the feeling she was just not being herself. I was kinda anxious for the paranormal element. lol
    But still I like the narration style. It could maybe be tightened even more, and like Dianne points out, give us a better glimpse as to who the MC is.

  15. Thanks again SO MUCH! I am a little worried about the picture I’m painting of Mom. Considering the paranormal comment (sorry, purely contemporary!!), I also had a reader once ask if Mom had bipolar disorder. Since she’s just a mom trying to deal with her husband’s death (poorly) I’m wondering if I need help seeing the way my writing is misrepresenting her. I look forward to helping the next person up for their First Impressions page. Christy

  16. This is definitely an intriguing first page that would keep me reading longer!

    Feedback …

    I feel like a need a little more in the very beginning to help me “place” the main character. Like, “Mom is at the stove [as I push through the kitchen door after school]. I stop, confused.” Or something like that.

    “I bring my backpack to the room I am using to sleep in and do homework in and hurry back to the kitchen.” Despite the fact that, as others have said, this sentence could maybe be smoothed out a bit, I really like that she DOESN’T refer to it as her bedroom. It says so much about her current situation.

    I don’t feel like I need to know too much more about the MC (other than a bit at the very beginning). I trust that that will come within the next few pages.

    Well done 🙂