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Dianne Salerni : Writer of Teen and Middle Grade Fiction | First Impressions: GOODNIGHT, SWEET PRINCE

First Impressions: GOODNIGHT, SWEET PRINCE

MariaWe only have one submission for August First Impressions this month, but it’s one with an intriguing premise! This is the first page of  Maria Anna Witt’s GOODNIGHT, SWEET PRINCE – a modern re-envisioning of Hamlet centered around a teenage boy band instead of a prince of Denmark.

***

Five hours into the ten hour flight from Copenhagen to Detroit most of the first class passengers were asleep. Harm tried. Seat reclined, headphones on, eyes closed, music playing, pushing ‘next’ repeatedly before accepting that next was never any better. He switched over to replay the voice mail message from three days ago.

Harm, they’re talking about a new contract. Whatever you do, don’t sign anything without talking to me first. And don’t let Mars sign anything either. Call me when you get a chance.

Listening to Dad’s voice, he could picture him—gray hair, thick-rimmed glasses, and kind, serious expression. He hadn’t called back. Between late night shows, and later night parties, and sleeping it off, there hadn’t been time.

Christmas. That was the last time he’d talked to Dad in person. Lied to him. How was everything going, was he getting enough sleep? Sure, Harm said.

“Touring is tough, I’m proud of you.”

Dad had toured a year before quitting his band and becoming a wildly successful songwriter. He clapped a firm hand on Harm’s shoulder. “Good grades, last report. That’s important. Gotta think long term.”

The tutor must have taken the tests. All Harm did was scribble his own handwriting on the papers and get a recap of what he’d learned. The formalities of being a minor in show business. Dad knew a lot about the business, but he didn’t seem to know that.

The last time he’d seen his dad and he’d lied. It hadn’t bothered him then, but now, it felt like someone was strangling him. He gasped and sat up, arms flailing defensively.

“You okay?” Mars asked. Next to him, his younger brother’s seat was upright, his skinny arms and shoulders tense under his tight black leather jacket, as he turned his phone over and over in his hands.

“Can’t sleep.” Harm said, shoving his headphones off. He thought about the Ativan in his pocket. He was trying not use them. Didn’t trust Mom and her doctors. So easy to get hooked on stuff.

Mars nodded, and turned toward the window, even though the plastic shade was closed. His phone vibrated with a loud hum, and he jumped and almost dropped it.

“The funeral’s Monday,” he said, checking the message.

“Huh,” Harm said. “Guess Paolo canceled Oslo for nothing.”

“We couldn’t have done anything. . . ”

“He didn’t know that!” Harm’s voice came out harsh in the steady hum of the plane, and he dropped it back to a half-whisper. “All he knows is the show must go on. Dad was in the hospital and we were out there shuffling. We should have been on this plane yesterday.”

***

There are a lot of really engaging things about this opening, especially when the reader knows the connection to Hamlet means that Harm’s father’s death is bound to be more complicated than it seems – and we already don’t want to trust his mother (or her doctors). Most of my notes are about minor line-editing for clarification.

First of all – and this is a personal preference – with nicknames like Harm and Mars (at least, I presume they’re nicknames or stage names) – I’d really like to get their real names up front. Perhaps in that voice mail from their dad? If anyone would address them by their proper names, it would be their dad, right?

In the line, He hadn’t called back, I think you should name Harm, so we don’t think it’s the father who never called back. As for the lines – “Touring is tough, I’m proud of you.” Dad had toured a year before quitting his band and becoming a wildly successful songwriter. – I’d like to see them in the same paragraph, and I’d also like a better feel for the connection between them. Is the point that Dad does know how hard touring is, because he’s done it? Or that Dad has no idea what it’s really like, because he only did it for one year? The following exchange about the schoolwork suggests the second meaning, but it’s unclear to me.

Along those same lines, Harm should be more definitive about the schoolwork deception. It would only take a slight change: The tutor had taken the tests. All Harm ever did was scribble his signature on the papers and get a recap of what he’d learned.

As for this passage:

“Huh,” Harm said. “Guess Paolo canceled Oslo for nothing.”

“We couldn’t have done anything. . . ”

“He didn’t know that!”

I believe Harm is referring to a concert prior to Oslo that Paolo did not cancel. I think you should sharpen the point by stating it directly. Something like:

He was still furious that Paolo had convinced them to stay for the performance in Copenhagen last night. 

But overall, I’m anxious to turn the page and learn more. Readers, what do you think?

Thanks, Maria, for sharing your page with us. Maria can be found at her blog, Never Mind Wasting Time, and don’t forget to check out Krystalyn and Marcy’s feedback on this same page.

 

15 Responses to First Impressions: GOODNIGHT, SWEET PRINCE

  1. Tiana Smith says:

    Very intriguing! I agree with Dianne’s notes but would definitely keep reading!

  2. I was a little confused reading this. I do think different names would help.

  3. Naming is so important. I’ve had to change some of my characters names several times to get them right and easily distinguishable. Good suggestion, Dianne.

  4. Lexa Cain says:

    First – great premise! I love the voice and how you dropped in a lot of backstory while keeping the action moving and the reader in the here and now. Bravo!

    Things that could be tweaked are just technical. In the first line, the repetition of 5 hours/10 hours confused me. Try: Halfway into the ten hour flight from Copenhagen to Detroit most of the first class passengers were asleep.

    The voice for Harm is terse and abbreviated, and I love it! It feels very natural, the way a teen boy would really think, but you’re losing it in some places where there’s too much description, like here: Next to him, his younger brother’s seat was upright, his skinny arms and shoulders tense under his tight black leather jacket, as he turned his phone over and over in his hands. That’s too much info to be swallowed when the reader is just getting the lay of the land. You can convey his nerves with “tense” or the phone turning, but you don’t need to do it with both. Also, there are 6 adjectives in that line. They need trimming.

    Last, I got lost at the end with the dead, and didn’t know, and cancelling Oslo. I didn’t understand who was going where or for what. I assumed at the beginning they were on their way to a gig, not that they were going home. I think the ending needs to be clarified some. Good luck!

    • Maria says:

      Thank You, Lexa for your feedback. I was very concerned if I was overdoing it on the backstory. Nice catch on my adjective-packed sentence. Crazy things I do sometimes.

  5. Well, darn. Lexa just nailed every point I was gonna make, so I don’t have anything new to add. I’ll just say I love the premise of a story fashioned after Hamlet, and I would definitely keep reading. Good luck, Maria! Great start.

  6. Interesting premise, and I definitely would keep reading. I was going to mention getting a little confused at the end, but the others covered that as well as the description of his brother and the names. Good luck with it!

  7. Amy says:

    This sounds amazing! I think the notes are spot on, although I thought the names Harm and Mars sounded like the ‘real’ names a songwriter father would come up with, so they didn’t bother me.

    Cool premise.

  8. My only comment is the names. Obviously, it’s the first page, so I don’t know if they are *from* Denmark (so Harm and Mars may be “normal” names) but if so, is there a Danish version of Mom and Dad?

    I also agree that if Harm and Mars are nicknames, their Dad would call them by their proper names.

    Good luck – and I would definitely turn the page to find out what happened next 🙂

  9. That last line hooked me. I’d definitely tighten some things up through this page, but overall, it presents a great conflict.

  10. Maria says:

    Thank you Dianne, for your helpful feedback, and to everyone who commented. I see what you are all saying about the names. I was planning to start the chapter with a short quote from a press release, but I decided to leave it out here, to save word count and see if the story could work without it. I’ll post it here, and would be interested if anyone who read wants to share if you think it would help with the confusion, or if it doesn’t really add anything.

    (Press Release, March 18, 2015) Artiste Tours regrets to announce that Rock Escape has canceled their concert at Forum Copenhagen on March 19, 2015 due to the untimely passing of the father of band members, Harm and Mars Genova. Our thoughts and hearts are with the Genova family at this difficult time. The remaining European concerts in the Whole Wild World tour have also been canceled. All tickets for the shows on March 19th, 20th, and 21st will be refunded.

    Thanks again for all the feedback and encouragement!

    • Ok, that definitely explains/helps a lot, Maria! (And, with some tightening of the page, as suggested by others, I think you’ll be good to go 🙂

      If you need some groupies to read the finished version, let me know 🙂

  11. Robin says:

    Hey Dianne,

    As usual, your comments are excellent. You caught all of the things that were uncertain for me, too. Like you, I find the premise of this story very interesting:)

    I’m still on vacation, but no longer at camp without internet.

    I read your previous post on the codes and learned something new:)

  12. Well, between Dianne and Lexa I think everything’s been mentioned already. lol Great feedback, ladies!

  13. Chuck Robertson says:

    I guess one of the problems with being the last guy to comment is everyone has pretty much said what I was going to say. I think i will reinforce the first sentence read a little clunky to me and could be smoothed over a bit. Also, I didn’t get the reference to Hamlet, although looking back I should have. Now that I recall Hamlet, I would be intrigued to read more so I can know where the story is going.