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Dianne Salerni : Writer of Teen and Middle Grade Fiction | First Impressions: A BOAT AGAINST THE CURRENT


Our third First Impressions post comes from Amy Makechnie. This is the first page of her manuscript A BOAT AGAINST THE CURRENT, which is Adult Fiction (although she says it could possibly be YA). 
I was ten when Gaysie Cutter tried to kill me.  Just like her too; always leaving a bad first impression.  It was July, the same week my father moved us to Sioux, Iowa, his childhood home, and the place he had met and fallen in love with my mother, Vienna.
A heat wave moved with us, a debilitating wet blanket that snaked its way around town like God’s curse upon Pharaoh.  And though it was hot enough to kill a cat, it couldn’t keep my little sister, Bitty, and me, from attempting to run a whole mile to our future elementary school.  Lanark Lane was one flat mile of farmland, John Deere tractors, big ol’ farmhouses, fields of corn, more corn, and something else smaller and green.
While running, a real cow mooed and scared Bitty and me so bad we about jumped out of our skin.  Several heart palpitations later, (the heartbeat was always something we were aware of) we resumed running down the open, dirt road, ever further away from the comfort of New York City skyscrapers, smog, foreign cabbie drivers, honking horns, and my favorite hog dog vendor on Fifth Avenue.  We ran until we saw it:  the great red tip of the rocket slide, the marker of Sioux Elementary.
We would have made it if it weren’t for the boy.
I wish this had kept going a few more lines! I want to know what the boy has to do with Gaysie Cutter, who tried to kill her when she was ten. (I’m assuming the narrator is female, although it doesn’t say.)
I love the first line, and I almost love the second line. (But I would lose the word always. How many times can you leave a first impression? Only once per person.)  I’m okay with naming the month and how they’d just moved, but the mention of the narrator’s parents’ love story moves me one step away from my narrator after I’d just gotten interested in her – and this is still only the first paragraph.
The heat wave and the running to look at the school – I liked this.  I also like the two contrasting lists – country vs. city. (Is that supposed to be hot dog?)  But the bit about the heart palpitations in parentheses threw me.  Immediately I wondered if one of the girls has a heart condition, but even if so, I’m not sure this is the place to mention it.
Then comes the boy.  And then we were cut off!  Boo hoo!
Overall, I enjoyed the voice and I definitely would’ve kept reading.  I do think the couple things I mentioned could be removed and addressed at a later time, just to keep us grounded in these two characters running down the dirt road in the heat to see their new school.
Thanks, Amy, for sharing your page with us! Be sure to check out what Marcy has to say about the same page, and you can find Amy at her blog Maisymak.

14 Responses to First Impressions: A BOAT AGAINST THE CURRENT

  1. SA Larsenッ says:

    Whoa – totally agree with Dianne on this one. I’m in. Want to know more!!

  2. Susan Fields says:

    Awesome first and last lines!

  3. Fiona Claire says:

    Love this – it made me feel hot, even though the temp here isn’t! I know what you mean – we get to make first impressions with each person we meet, but I did stumble over that sentence, so maybe you could reword it.
    What does ‘something else smaller and green’ at the end of the 2nd paragraph mean? If it’s foreshadowing, maybe you could define it a bit better – and the heart thing as well – or just leave that part out for now, like Dianne suggested.
    Wonderful sense of childlike optimism, even though they’ve had to move to the country, and YES, would love to read more.

  4. For a change, I commented on Marcy’s blog first today. As I said there, I truly love this piece, from the first sentence to the (too-soon!) last.

    I like the use of “always” in the second sentence. Yes, you can only make one impression per person, but my take is that she makes a bad first impression on EVERYONE. Which is funny, and even more so because of the whole trying to kill the narrator part. (Talk about a bad impression!)

    Great job.

  5. I love this first page, but it sounds middle grade to me rather than adult or ya. The only thing that threw me off was the long list of things they left behind in NY. For some reason, it threw off the narrative. If I picked this up in a bookstore, I’d want to keep reading.

  6. AmyMak says:

    This is Amy – thanks so much for the feedback! I will definitely take them all into consideration.

    Yes, Gaysie makes a bad impression on everybody, that’s where the “always” comes from. I agree, I should take out the heart palpitations even though it does foreshadow – it comes too early. Glad you want to read more…!

    I was so nervous to click over here today – Thank you for being constructively kind 🙂

  7. Lexa Cain says:

    The info in the excerpt certainly works and I like the atmosphere. I’m puzzled about the voice. It’s not really little girly and it’s not really adult. I can’t work out if the book’s going to be the adventures of a teen, or if it will be an adult book that (oddly) starts out in childhood.

    I know everyone says to write an awesome “hook” line. Problem is, unless that line gets explained pretty quickly and has something to do with the unfolding scene, it seems like a trick — a bait and switch. (And who of us hasn’t read a book where the first chapter is tension-filled and the second in vapid and full of backstory? That’s so aggravating.) I can’t tell how long until Gaysie comes into the story, but I hope it’s soon…

  8. Agreed with your commets Diane. Loved the feel of this page and wanted to keep reading.

  9. I agree with your assessment as usual, Diane. Loved the voice and especially the imagery the words invoked.

  10. Lydia Kang says:

    It’s a great opening. I agree!

  11. T. Drecker says:

    Definitely leaves me feeling the heat – great descriptions. I agree with Diane’s comments. Especiallly the heart thing. It threw me off.
    Thanks for sharing!

  12. Tonja says:

    I agree with you on your comments. The parentheses in particular threw me off. I read it as hot dog. 🙂

  13. Demitria says:

    Really good opening! Need to read more!

  14. Julia Tomiak says:

    Amy, your opening sentence did hook me; I don’t have a problem with the always. The character always makes a bad impression, each time she meets someone new. I love the metaphor of the heat wave. I thought the voice sounded childlike- they are going to an elementary school, after all. Sometimes the long, complicated sentences distracted me- I agree about leaving out the bit about the parents and focusing on the moment at hand. I’m also confused about what running to the school has to do with Gaysie Cutter, especially because it’s such an unusual name, I spent a few moments trying to figure out if Gaysie is a she. Great start though, and I’d want to read more. Thanks Amy for introducing me to this site!