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

First Impressions: CRIMSON

blakeI hope everyone had a happy Labor Day! Our first submission for First Impressions in September comes from Blake C. Haysel. It’s called CRIMSON, and it’s a YA paranormal thriller and spin-off of Little Red Riding Hood.


Memories could change in fifteen years. Altering to fit how you wanted to remember them.

When I woke the light of the morning was still gray. For a few moments I continued to lie in bed counting the seconds on my old clock. Finally settled in my morning skin I stood up and walked to the window. The only one I had in my matchbox bedroom. Fog still clung to the glass as I gazed out at the Statue of Liberty in the distance from our small high-rise apartment in Red Hook. My father moved us out to Brooklyn when I was three years old after it was clear he could not afford to pay the mortgage on the bungalow in New Hartford. That was what happened when half the family income vanished into thin air along with your mother. For about a year, he put up a good fight though, wanting to at least let me keep my home since I could not keep my mother. The mother I could not remember. Or maybe my memories choose to be forgetful when it came to her?

Cracking the window open, my nose was instantly assaulted by the delicious aromas of the local bakery across the street. I remembered the first time I had a crescent roll. Flaky, buttery and sweet. My father held my hand as we made our way to the other side of the black paved road. The bakery normally did not sell to customers before 8 a.m. but my father wanted me to try the crescent before I went to daycare. It was my first day. But the owner of the shop was a Vietnam veteran and could not refuse my father’s request. Ever since then, if Dad was home from deployment we would head over there to enjoy a crescent as he walked me to the train station before school.

The neighborhood was starting to yawn and stretch. Old men were walking out of the grocery store with their morning newspaper and hot tea. Mothers were juggling their workbags and their sleepwalking toddlers. The stoplights were doing their dance for an invisible audience. Exhaust clouded the air as cabdrivers rub their hands together and waited for their engine’s to heat.

As I watched the other world carry on, I wondered why it got to continue on when mine did not. As if nothing happened. Sighing, I shivered to shake the chill that settled in my bones. Didn’t matter that the heat in the apartment was stifling.


There’s to be a lot of emotional back story conveyed in this first page, and there are several lines I really like: That was what happened when half the family income vanished into thin air along with your mother. For about a year, he put up a good fight though, wanting to at least let me keep my home since I could not keep my mother. ~ The stoplights were doing their dance for an invisible audience. But I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to focus on: the missing mother, the move from New Hartford to Brooklyn, or the memory of that crescent roll with her father.

Opening the story with the main character waking up has appeared over and over on various agents’ list of No-Nos. It’s something you should try to avoid if at all possible. And in this case, there doesn’t seem to be a strong reason to start with the main character waking up.

Beginning with a statement about the unreliability of memory works for me (although this one needs to be rephrased because the second sentence is a fragment), but if that’s the opening line, then the author should take us directly to the memory in question. Is it the croissant and the bakery? Is it the young girl’s impression of the bustling city, going about life normally when hers has been overturned? And what about this memory has she altered to fit the way she wants to remember it?

Does she have no memories of her mother at all? Not even false ones she’s made up to fill this hole in her life? A memory of her mother that she admits is totally invented would fit the statement made in the opening line.

Overall, I’m interested in the main character, but this approach to the beginning of her story doesn’t fully engage me. Rather then use the first page to describe the city in which she lives – one most of us are familiar with anyway – I would love to see a description of a memory she’s reshaped into what she wants it to be. (Especially a memory of the missing mother engaging in a motherly activity she never did.) Readers, what do you think?

Thank you, Blake, for sharing your first page with us! Please check out Marcy’s feedback on the same page at Mainewords, and Blake can be found at her blog, The Tattered Page.

14 Responses to First Impressions: CRIMSON

  1. Sheri Larsen says:

    Left my comments over on Marcy’s site. But I forgot to add that I really like the title, Blake! It’s nice to meet you.

  2. Robin says:

    If you insert a comma for the period in the first sentence, it will work for you. I really like it.

    It is SO tempting to tell the back story right away. As the writer, we are SURE the reader NEEDS to know this information. The truth is that they don’t. Dianne and Marcy are both correct that this stuff can be interspersed along the way. Not easy to do, but it will make your story better.

    I don’t know where this story goes after this beginning, but you might try starting at the place of action… particularly if it relates to that first sentence. If the character is doing something that triggers a memory (of her mother?) and makes her question, “Is this true?” I remember it one way, but maybe that wasn’t how it happened. Or I don’t remember it at all, and I rely on how other people recall it.

    Lastly, even though that first sentence is great… it if doesn’t go with your action scene, you might want to move it to where it belongs. I would definitely keep it, but maybe it doesn’t go at the beginning.

  3. So cool that you’re still doing this, Dianne, and I agree with your assessment here. It’s a good passage, and a Red Riding Hood psych thriller sounds boss! Best of luck to you, Blake. 🙂

  4. PK Hrezo says:

    Hey Blake and Dianne! I love the title of this story too. And I immediately feel a connection with the MC. My concern is what’s already been mentioned and that’s the instant backstory when nothing has really happened yet. The writing itself is lovely with nice details, but I feel like nothing is happening to keep me reading. Now a flashback to a horrible memory could work as a hook, but it’d have to pack a punch and leave the reader with a big question to find out more.

    Best of luck Blake!!

  5. There is some good imagery but I wasn’t pulled in here. Probably all the backstory in the first paragraph. Try to vary the sentences at bit too. I also found some of the word usage odd – like being assaulted by a good smell. We tend to think of assaults as bad, you know what I mean?

    But I do like the concept and the crux of the story. Best of luck.

  6. Julia Tomiak says:

    You’ve gotten good feedback already; I agree with Robin that it would be nice if you could start with action or tension. Could she be in a scene with her father? Could something trigger a memory. Maybe she could be in a situation when one really needs/wants her mother, but she can’t have her. Be sure to keep those lines Dianne singled out – they are gems. Good luck with this project!

  7. I think most of the comments that have come before mine are right on. One thing to avoid is immediate backstory. Another is to have someone waking up.

    There are some strong bits here and it’s certainly worth polishing.

  8. You have some great suggestions for her. When I read it at Marcy’s blog I thought it was too slow of a start. Too much reflection and not enough of something happening.

  9. Awesome thoughts, Dianne. I felt the same–waking is not the best place to open a story. It seems like there really is some wonderful background to this, but if we can have the story open with conflict or action, that’s going to be the most engaging for readers. Having lived in NYC, I was having a difficult time connecting visually with the setting. I can’t see anything that has a clear view of the Statue of Liberty being low income–and if a building is close enough to the ground to catch a whiff of the bakery, I’m definitely not seeing it as tall enough to have the view. Then again, I haven’t lived in Brooklyn, so I could be totally off base. Every boro is such a different world.

  10. Mina B. says:

    Although I appreciate the picture that’s painted in this opening, I agree with Dianne. For me, what’s most interesting is that Little Red Riding Hood is in NY City and she doesn’t have a memory. That makes for an interesting story.

  11. Keith Wynn says:

    Yay it’s finally allowing me to comment! But it won’t let me comment on any older posts. Does it just let you comment on the most recent post?

  12. Elise Fallson says:

    Hi Dianne and Blake. Another spot on critique, Dianne. Blake, you’ve got the elements of a fantastic story, NYC, Little Red Riding Hood, a modern day twist on an old tale… This is going to be a really good story so keep at it. As a first page, I too would like to see some kind of action. I’m a plot driven reader and prefer stories that open with an engaging scene. As far as backstory, I like it when writers are able to weave tidbits in with appropriate action scenes (not easy, I know and it’s something I have a hell of a time trying to do myself). Anyway, you’ve gotten great feedback and I hope it motivates you to press on. It sure makes me wish I had something worth handing over to Dianne and Marcy…. 🙂

  13. Blake says:

    Thank you so much for the feedback! My story will be the better for it. I truly appreciate it. I am so excited to put all of the advice to good use!