Dianne Salerni author Dianne Salerni author Dianne Salerni books Dianne Salerni blog Dianne Salerni Appearances Dianne Salerni contact Dianne Salerni teachers
Dianne Salerni : Writer of Teen and Middle Grade Fiction | First Impressions: COWARDS AND CAPES

First Impressions: COWARDS AND CAPES



Garrett Vander Leun is opening First Impressions this month with the first page of  COWARDS AND CAPES, a YA novel combining superheroes and real world history.




There are consequences for breaking a supervillain’s window.

“Charlie!” Glenn yelled.

“What?” Charlie had already moved on.

“You just tossed a newspaper through the window of that house!”

“I what?” Charlie’s big face recoiled into his neck meat. “No I didn’t.”

Once a liar, always a liar. On the day they’d first met, Glenn caught Charlie drawing a picture of Golem inside his math book. His black leather costume, the signature aleph engraved on the forehead of his cowl, and two middle fingers poking right through a set of algebra problems. It was crude, vulgar and completely illegal.

Glenn had tried reminding the brazen artist to maybe not draw a Cape in publicAnd Charlie, being Charlie, whipped around with a reply. I’ll tell you what’s illegal – me being best friends with Golem and him teaching me fifty-seven different ways to shut your fucking spaghetti hole for good.

Which was a pretty stupid reply considering the Capes had been dead for decades. Controlling the urge to tattle on the well-fed liar, Glenn whispered something back. Fine, he’d said, but I’m a Cape Chaser, too – and for your information, I hate spaghetti.

Glenn squinted at the house. “Just go deal with it, Charlie.”

“Deal with what though? Seriously, nothing happened.”

“I heard it break, or whatever.” Glenn could hear a beetle break wind in the quiet of their morning paper route. Everyone said that if the Soviets were going to launch again – and they were definitely ready to do it again – then they’d do it in the dark. Everyone who was anyone stayed inside until the sun came up. 

“Look, I’m sure whoever lives there gets it. Accidents fucking happen.”

Charlie’s constant cursing made Glenn twitch with itches. Sure accidents frigging happened, but that was not an accident. “You did like, you…” He brought his hand back behind his head to show Charlie how hard he’d tossed the newspaper. “You chucked it – sure as ’64!”

God, he sounded like one of his teachers. I told you kids we had a test today, sure as ’64! It had almost become a joke, as throwaway as two digits in a phone number or a street address. 1964 was the joke with an endless punchline.

First the Soviets launched, then the Capes died stopped it and that caused a worldwide blackout. Almost two million people died and all kinds of industries along with it. Music was gone, the film industry expired and the general business of being happy was flat-out extinct.


I found this entertaining and intriguing, and at this point I would definitely turn the page to read more! I especially like the dialogue between the boys.

That’s not to say I can’t suggest some tweaking. For instance: On the day they’d first met, Glenn caught Charlie drawing a picture of Golem inside his math book. His black leather costume, the signature aleph engraved on the forehead of his cowl, and two middle fingers poking right through a set of algebra problems. I would stick to the past perfect tense and say Glenn had caught Charlie, and I would also replace the period with a colon or an em-dash to remove the sentence fragment that follows.

As for here: Controlling the urge to tattle on the well-fed liar – was Glenn really considering tattling to a teacher? Because it doesn’t seem like it. And well-fed suggests fat, so if Charlie looks like a threat, would bulky or hulking be a more apt description?

It took me a couple reads to get the connection between Glenn hearing a beetle break wind and the Soviets launching. Is it because everyone is cowering in their homes and the streets are deadly quiet? Glenn and Charlie are out. Does this mean they don’t count among the “everyone who was anyone?”

Finally, while I definitely want to know more about what happened in ’64, I don’t think I want to see it jammed into that one little paragraph. It packs too much into three sentences, jumping from Soviets to Capes (superheroes?) to a blackout and the death of music. If it was a mini-apocalypse, should music and film industries be the first things mentioned – as if they are more important than anything else? I suggest picking just one aspect of ’64 to mention here. Make it tantalizing. Force us to read on to learn more about what happened and how that has impacted Glenn’s world.

One last thing: Garrett’s pitch for the book mentioned “real-world history.” I suggest changing that to “alternate world history” for accuracy and to appeal to the right audience. Alternate world history has its own following!

Thanks, Garrett for sharing COWARDS AND CAPES! Readers, any comments? Don’t forget to check out Marcy’s critique of the same page at Mainewords, and you can find Garrett at his website, Monster Town.

There will be two more First Impressions next week – so come back Monday and in the meantime, Happy Fourth of July!



9 Responses to First Impressions: COWARDS AND CAPES

  1. Thank you so much for doing this, Dianne!

    I agree with you on your notes – laying down the rules of my world are always the hardest part and I welcome any help with that endeavor. I’ve already gone back and made some big changes to the manuscript and the sample on my website. I’ve dropped out that story from Glenn and Charlie’s past, which seems like kind of a hard stop right at the top, and made it clear that a Cape is a superhero.

    In regards to the real-world history part, I’d like to know how better to implement that notion in queries, if at all. While the 1984 portions of my story are indeed ‘alternate-history,’ there’s significant chunks of my book that take place in the 30s, 40s, 50s, etc. and do indeed feature real history… With superheroes on the side.

    Thanks again. Always a very helpful experience.

  2. Gwen Gardner says:

    First, it sounds like it’s going to be a really good book. I’d read on. Breaking the supervillain’s window is perfectly brilliant! LOL. I didn’t get the Capes reference until you explained it, and I know Garrett already addressed that. The boys’ dialogue was believable. Sounds like it’s going to be a really fun read!

    Since this is a children’s book, I don’t think they’re going to get the reference about 1964. It’s maybe too much information for the opening.

    You definitely need the alternate history tag–maybe combine it with real-life and alternate somehow. Maybe switching between real life and alternate?

    There’s a bit of a typo in the last paragraph, too. The word stopped should be stopping.

    I thoroughly enjoyed it, Garrett!

  3. Lexa Cain says:

    I was rather confused in the beginning. I didn’t know where they were or why a window was broken. Then you gave us backstory about drawings, so I pictured them at school. After I found out they were doing a paper route, things made more sense. It’s really important to ground the reader in the scene by describing the setting and the characters’ locations within it. You nailed the voice though. Good job!

  4. Definitely alternate world history. As I said on Marcy’s blog, I was confused at first. But it has a lot of personality and voice, so with clarification, it could be really great.

  5. Wow, I love the opening line!

  6. Elise Fallson says:

    I had a pretty good image of this first scene and really enjoyed the dialogue, it was believable and fun. I’d turn the page for sure. Thank you Garrett for sharing. And I agree with Dianne, great suggestions, especially about the alternate world history tag.

  7. Robin says:

    Great suggestions. I read this one over at Marcy’s page, too, though I didn’t comment. I think that the premise is cool and the writing is good. Deszmond said on Marcy’s page that the phrase “neck meat” made him go aacchh and he “no likey.” I had to agree. So,maybe the aacchh was mine and he just “no likey.” Anyway, in an alternate history book there are going to be so many “different” things that you can’t throw too many of them at us in the first page. Focus on the most interesting and use those and that let the rest unravel as the story progresses. However, I think this story is great and I would love to read it.

  8. Lydia Kang says:

    I love your new blog! The design is so awesome!

    This was a fun chapter to read, and I pretty much agree with all your comments!

  9. I already commented over at Marcy’s place, but it’s always interesting to read both of your critiques. (You usually agree on most points.)

    I like the idea of history “modified” with the addition of super heroes. Sounds like fun!