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

First Impressions: DREAM THIEVES

Happy December, everyone! Our first submission for First Impressions this month comes from Christine Danek. It’s a YA Paranormal titled DREAM THIEVES.
The eyes I sketch on my notebook send chills up my spine. Those eyes are the only thing I remember from my sleepless nights. I glance down at my mangled arm. The hideous bruise and cuts are souvenirs from last night. I rub my elbow and pain shoots up to my shoulder. Thanks to my ex-boyfriend, Graham, these nightmares have invaded my life for the past three months.  
I wince as I pull my hair up in a loose knot and crack the window. Everything is quiet except for a lone cricket and an owl. It seems a little warm for May, but it means school’s almost over. My bed creaks as I sit on the edge. A large stack of papers topped with a yellow Post-It stare back me from my nightstand.

Go through these applications and think about a major. We need to visit more schools when I return. Your father and I want to see what you got on your English exam. I set up a tutoring session on Saturday at 1:00. Keep in mind, if your grades and attitude don’t improve, there’s a spot at a boarding school for you next year.

I pick up the large pile of college applications and drop them on the floor, rustling up a ton of hidden dust. The pressure to pick a major is annoying. I have no idea what I want to do. Of course, my brother knew he wanted to be a doctor, like my dad, since he was five. Of course he got into Yale for undergrad. Of course he got accepted to USC for medical school. He’s the child that paved the way and I’m the pothole growing in the middle. 
This weekend was for me to breathe. No parents to drill into my head how worthless I am. Nothing like adding more pressure–a study session with probably some nerd. Crap. And the threat of boarding school. Double crap. My relaxing weekend has turned into anxiety hell.
For me, the narrative clicked into place with the note from Sadie’s mother and Sadie’s reflection on her “perfect child” brother.  I loved the line about him paving the way and Sadie being a pothole. (Although – I think the note is a little long to be on a post-it unless her mom has very tiny handwriting.)
The first paragraph tells me too many things at once – and too little about each thing.  Sketching eyes on her notebook. Disturbing dreams. A mangled arm. An ex-boyfriend who’s apparently responsible – although I’m not sure if he’s responsible for the dreams or for hurting her arm. 
My suggestion would be to start with Sadie discovering her mother’s instructions on how she is to spend the weekend she thought she had all to herself.  Then weave in some of those details from the first paragraph. Her arm hurts when she reaches for the stack of papers.  Underneath the stack of college applications, Sadie sees the eyes she sketched on a notebook from the last time she had a sleepless night.  Bring Graham in when you have an opening to do so, but I’m not sure you want to link him to the dreams yet. 
Readers, your thoughts? Christine, thank you for sharing your first page with us!
You can find Christine at her blog, Christine’s Journey, and don’t forget to check out Marcy Hatch’s critique of this same page on Mainewords.

22 Responses to First Impressions: DREAM THIEVES

  1. Very haunting piece. I like your suggestion about the the sketch pad and the eyes, makes it more subtle.

  2. I loved the pothole line. 😀

    I agree with Dianne. The beginning is all over the place and I wasn’t sure what was going on. And then you hit the note (which is way too long for a Post-it) and everything flowed nicely. Great job, Christine! 😀

  3. Excellent advice, Dianne!

    The first six sentences (the first graph) feel so disconnected from everything else, it doesn’t work for me.

    I completely agree that the story starts to flow with the note, but the cricket, and the creaking bed is where I would start. Then sprinkle all the bits of exposition from the first paragraph in as you move through the scene.

    Totally agree about the pothole line, too. Well done, Christine!

  4. Angela Brown says:

    The first paragraph was haunting and dark but what followed strayed from where it seemed we were headed. Though I’ve not clue where I thought that would be. But your suggestion of weaving these haunting pieces into the character’s process of handling the applications is brilliant as it gives even more opportunity for sensory invocation as well.

  5. Linda G. says:

    I love the pothole line, too! 🙂

    Dianne, your comments (as usual) are spot on.

  6. Susan Fields says:

    Great snippet and great critique! I agree, that opening stuff can come a little later, as it is it’s just kind of confusing.

  7. SA Larsenッ says:

    I agree with Dianne. I think finding the instructions is a great place to start. It gives us a peek into your MC and her world, plus injects with with curiosity.

  8. I too like your suggestion about the eyes. I loved it Dianne!

  9. Wow! Good stuff! I love the imagery of the nightmarish eyes and the use of sounds to draw readers into the scene. The description of her injuries is good, too, but it isn’t clear if they’re from her ex, or from some supernatural effect of her dreams. If her ex isn’t directly involved in what’s occurring to her now, maybe you don’t need to mention him yet. The post-it note message provides a lot of info, but it’s a little too formal. And long. All-in-all, I think this is a terrific start. I’d definitely keep on reading.

  10. Lydia Kang says:

    Great critique. I agree with Dianne’s comments. The piece was really interesting to read!

  11. My first impression was something nightmarish like Freddy Kruger, dreams and injuries that happen in dreams. Then it switched to something much more relatable. I think the main story line is picked up and set by the mom’s note and what follows so I agree with the suggestion to move it up.

  12. I agree, Dianne. All that stuff about the dreams and the mangled arm don’t seem to fit where the story goes from there.

    I also love that pothole growing in the middle line.

    Where did the dust come from? The applications?

  13. Robin says:

    Dianne’s advise is excellent, in the beginning I was confused about the real issues and if her boyfriend was the bad guy or if he connected to the dream thieves.

    The voice after the note is great and as already mentioned, the pothole line is a winner.
    I’m not sure that I get that the note really warrants “anxiety hell” unless you’re referring to the disturbing dream stuff in the beginning.

    Great start. I would keep reading.

  14. Fiona Claire says:

    What’s the matter with you people? Has no one heard of JUMBO post-it notes? Please note (no pun there):
    Since I’ve read a bit further than page 1, I understand why Graham needs to be in the picture early, but as usual, Dianne has an excellent point. Maybe Graham could show up on page 2. Also, maybe you could make it clearer that the bruises came from Graham or from the dreams. And, yes, pothole children rule the world.

  15. TC Avey says:

    Interesting plot, I see potential.

  16. Tonja says:

    I liked the beginning, but agree with your idea. After I read the rest of it, the beginnning part didn’t seem like it flowed as well.

    If it’s set in the present day, college applications are all online and usually by filling out just one online application. If it’s current day, maybe the mom would have printed off information about each college, not that mothers of teens would ever do that….

    They make large post-it notes now … not that I ever leave long and enumerated messages for my daughter.

  17. Thank you so much, Dianne. It’s amazing how many times I have looked at this and now I see what you mean. I can’t thank you enough. Also, thank you to all who have commented. You feedback is appreciated and helpful.

  18. Mina Burrows says:

    I love reading every one’s perspective. I think Christine has a really unique concept here. I know I’d like to read more. 🙂

  19. Joanne Fritz says:

    I’m intrigued! Love the title. But you are throwing a lot of stuff at the reader all at once.

    For me, the story started with the Mom’s note. And it didn’t occur to me that it wouldn’t all fit on a post-it. 🙂

  20. Lexa Cain says:

    Like Dianne, I got sucked in at the letter from Mom. Wow. Mom’s not very nice. I immediately felt sorry for the mc.

    I liked the info about her ex and her pain, and loved the info about the brother including the “pothole” line.

    The thing I liked least was your first line. I’ve read too many novels starting with shivers/chills skittering up the spine. Are the cricket and owl necessary? Sounds a bit Gothic, and I started to think a ghost was coming next, but then I got the sense it was a Contemp novel. I was confused about your genre and that’s never good at the beginning of a book.

    Overall, very good! 🙂

  21. Donna Hole says:

    I agree it needs some spreading out and organization. The concepts are intriguing.


  22. Hey, now. That’s some fantastic stuff. Mouth watered and ready for more! 🙂