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Dianne Salerni : Writer of Teen and Middle Grade Fiction | First Impressions #30

First Impressions #30

Our second First Impressions for December is a middle grade science-fiction/fantasy novel by Fiona Claire entitled FINDING OUT. Like the last First Impression, this is a NaNo project and a first draft.

I might be dead. If I am, it’s a shame because I didn’t say good-bye to anybody, not Dad (if he even cares anymore) or Mrs. K or anybody. But I don’t feel anything and I don’t see anything or hear anything, so . . . Doesn’t that mean I’m dead?

The last thing I remember was running, like I always do when things get too awful. And it had been a totally awful, horrible, crappy Friday. So, when I got home from school, I didn’t eat the snack Mrs. K had left out for me, or take my medicine, or even change my school uniform. I just ran outside. The air felt cool on my face as I raced across our back yard and into the wild maze of bushes and trees that we called the ‘back lot.’

It was a good place to be alone, and I made a b-line for the secret fort I’d created as a little kid. About four summers ago, when I was just eight, I’d worked hard cutting back bushes and vines to make a sort of tunnel that led directly to Headquarters.

The problem was, now it was all overgrown. I couldn’t even get a few feet down the path without the branches cutting and slashing at me. Had it really been that long since I was back here to check the place out? It must have been over a year, at least, since before . . . well . . . before a lot of things.

I ran back inside and got my pocket knife to cut back some of the bushes. Emmaline was just hanging out in her web in my bedroom window.

“Hey girl,” I whispered to her, “Wanna go for a walk?”

There’s a deceptively large amount of information packed into a short amount of space on this page. (Very neatly done, btw!) By the end of the passage, I know something bad is about to happen to the MC, so that she (he?) thinks she might be dead. (A lot of information is given, but not the gender of the speaker – however, my gut instinct is this is a girl.)

I also know she lives with a distant and seemingly uncaring father and Mrs. K (a housekeeper?); she attends a private school (the uniform), and has some kind of medical condition (the medicine she didn’t take). A year ago, something happened that caused her to stop visiting her fort.

AND she either has a pet spider – or a magical spider that lives in her room. She talks to the spider, but the spider doesn’t talk back (yet), so I’ll withhold judgment on the magical part.

There were a few things I questioned. If she hasn’t been out to this fort in a year or more, why does she make a beeline (not b-line, btw) for it now, after a Friday so crappy she doesn’t eat her snack or take her medicine? I also thought if the path was so overgrown she couldn’t make it to the fort, she’d need gardening shears, not a penknife from her room.

And the biggest question for me, what happened to this girl to make her think she might be dead? The last thing she remembers was running … and the scene starts with her running to her fort … so I expected I was going to find out right away. Then she turns around and goes back to her room. I was disappointed by this detour, but I assume the author knows exactly what she’s doing and the spider Emmaline is crucial to what happens next.

One thing is certain, the story certainly has my attention! Fiona, thanks for sharing your page with us!

You can find Fiona at her blog Ageless Druids. Also, be sure to stop by Mainewords for Marcy Hatch’s critique of this same page.

13 Responses to First Impressions #30

  1. Sarah says:

    Hey! This is a really strong beginning, particularly for a first draft. I also noticed the smooth integration of key background information–very nicely done. I’d definitely keep reading!

  2. Fantastic job Fiona. Hope I get to read this one in it’s entirety soon!

  3. Linda G. says:

    A fascinating start! Oddly, the thing that has me most curious is the spider. I’d keep reading just to find out how that relationship came about.

  4. Lydia Kang says:

    So true–there is so much packed into this excerpt! I was immediately wondering, what’s up with Mrs. K? What happened to mom?

  5. Fiona Claire says:

    Thank you Dianne for the opportunity and thank you ALL for the helpful comments. It’s always so much easier to forge ahead with the support of kind fellows. A little concerned because the MC is a boy. I think I’ve outted him by page 2, and definitely give you his name at the top of page 3, but I’d be interested to know if anyone feels they must know his gender on page one? And yes, the spider plays a pivotal role, but she does not speak. Thanks again for the help!

  6. Fiona, it might help if you said he didn’t even bother to take off his uniform tie. I know some girls’ schools use ties as part of the uniform, but I think if I saw the word “tie” I’d be thinking: BOY.

  7. I was wondering whether this was a YA novel or adult novel in the vein of The Lovely Bones? Nice beginning!

  8. Definitely find this story interesting, though I also assumed it was a girl as the MC. Should be easy enough to clarify that earlier in the manuscript. Yes, we want to know what happens next!

  9. Southpaw says:

    I liked it too. I was thrown off a little by the running part as well.

    It’s funny I thought it was a gal too, but when you said it was a guy and I reread it I was like, oh yeah.

    I think as readers unless we know the gender upfront we tend to make the character our own gender.

  10. What a nice opening!

    And I agree with Dianne, say tie or something to show its a boy! I’d also drop the rhetorical questions at the very beginning: So . . . Doesn’t that mean I’m dead? and make it a statement instead: so… that must mean that I’m dead.

  11. Jaime Loren says:

    Nice beginning! I think I must be the only one who pictured a boy! But I’d take on the suggestions about adding something to confirm the gender. I realise it’s coming, but when you have such a strong, question-raising beginning, it’s nice to know you’re at least covering the character’s gender as you picture them running and possibly dying.

    As with a few others, the fact he turned back threw me a little. Then I was thinking: well, maybe he trips and falls on the knife? But I did like the fact you gave us enough information in this first page to a) give us some background, and b) raise some more questions to make us keep reading. Overall, a very nice job!

  12. WOW! What a strong and well-executed beginning! Fiona, stick with writing. You have a natural talent.

  13. Susan Fields says:

    That was great – I really enjoyed this opening!