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

First Impressions: HAUNTED

Our second submission for First Impressions is from Susan Oloier, a YA manuscript Susan describes as “Paranormal Lite” called HAUNTED.
          It’s raining, so I shouldn’t have agreed to be the designated driver. But here I am. There are no alternatives. I take the keys from Jeremy and dash toward his Subaru. The earthy smell of water soaking into the dirt and pavement rises around us. Jeremy ducks down as if his little exercise is a way to walk between the raindrops, as if he will live forever within their spaces.
            “Let me drive,” he says, though his speech is drowned in grogginess.
            “I’ve got it,” I say as we scramble for the car. “You just relax. Get some rest.” I can use the rest myself as I teeter on the edge of sleep, too. But I want to take care of him. He had so much to drink.
I fire up the engine and crank the heat. Jeremy slips into the passenger’s seat, pulls his door closed, and immediately turns on the stereo. Before taking off, I eye him briefly: his brown bangs hanging limply in his face as he tugs his plastered shirt from his chest. He pushes his head into the back of the headrest and closes his eyes. As our song plays, Jeremy lifts his lids and reaches out to finger the ends of my hair. His eyes mingle with mine for a moment, then he grabs my hand. “Love you, Hailey.”
“Love you, too.”
“I’m so drunk.” Then he lets go and balances between sleep and wakefulness.
I turn on the wipers and try hard to focus on the wet and blurry road ahead of me. My hands choke the wheel. I hate driving in the rain—at night. But I promised I would, which is why Jeremy drank at the party, then drank some more.
I wind my way along the county roads, twisting and turning. The vehicles that pass in the opposite direction douse my windshield in a blinding spray. I sit all the way forward in the seat, feeling the muscles in my neck tighten and the tendons in my fingers strain.
This is a promising beginning. I can feel the tension – the drunken but affectionate boyfriend, the rain, the darkness, and the nervousness of the driver. I anticipate what will happen next, and I would definitely turn the page to find out if I’m right.
My feedback mainly focuses on individual sentences. Jeremy ducks down as if his little exercise is a way to walk between the raindrops, as if he will live forever within their spaces. This was my first hang-up. I am guessing this is meant to describe Jeremy drunkenly dodging between the raindrops – and possibly to foreshadow what happens to Jeremy next. But his actual movement needs rephrasing for clarity.

I also thought Hailey’s line “You just relax. Get some rest.” didn’t ring true.  You tell someone to “get some rest” when they are sick or overwrought, not drunk. I want her to say something else here.

To me, “taking off” suggests a plane or at least a speedy start (tires squealing). Hailey will drive more timidly, so I would choose a phrase that reflects this.  I also want to know why their song automatically comes on. Did Jeremy have it queued up? Was that something he did all the time? If so, I’d like to know it, because it suggests that Jeremy is a romantic – and not just when he’s soppy drunk.

Other than that, I think this is a great beginning. Readers, your thoughts?

Susan, thanks for sharing your first page with us! Everyone should stop by Mainewords for Marcy’s critique of the same page and say hello to Susan at her blog.

And let me know if you’ve got a first page you’d like to share in January. Maybe that NaNo project, hmmm?

22 Responses to First Impressions: HAUNTED

  1. Susan, I really enjoyed this piece and would read on. I want to know what happens down the road. I agree with Dianne, though. Some of the sentences slow the pace for me. Some seem overwritten, like the one Dianne mentioned. I think some rephrasing would help. Best of luck with this, you have a great start.

  2. Hi Susan,

    Though I don’t read YA much, I enjoyed this excerpt.

    As one who has “done a Jeremy,” I also caught the *our song* line and wonder how that happened.

    I also remember really enjoying the rain after a few pints and not trying to dodge any drops at all… just sayin’ 🙂

    Great job, and I wish you well:)

  3. Linda G. says:

    My interest is definitely piqued!

    I like the concept. With a little polish (Dianne’s suggestions are great) this will really be a great opener.

  4. Tonja says:

    The present tense seems a little forced if that makes sense. It doesn’t feel like we’re looking through her eyes seeing what she’s seeing. I agree about the dialogue. Great start. I like the idea – as a mother it made me very uncomfortable, which I assume is good for YA. :))

  5. Angela Brown says:

    I’m not the best when it comes to present tense. I can read it but I think my brain is trained on past tense. This is an ailment of my mind, even bothered me while reading The Hunger Games, so my issues with this sample are less about the tense and more along line-by-line.

    First, I have to point out two positives immediately. This is just a beautiful line to me: “The earthy smell of water soaking into the dirt and pavement rises around us.” It pulls me close to the scene with the use of sensory and imagery. Excellent. And the pacing is wonderful. It isn’t always necessary to start with a BANG right out the blocks. This intro does a nice job of establishing certain parameters of the relationship and foreshadows possible things to come.

    As for the issues, mine are actually the same as what Dianne already mentioned so no need to repeat. That’s all 🙂 Beautifully written, Susan.

  6. Hi Dianne .. this created great tension and I too wonder where the story is going .. I’m not sure Jeremy would duck down in his state – he might weave a little around the raindrops … toooooo drunk to duck – at least that’s the way he comes over ..

    Enjoyed it though .. cheers Hilary

  7. Hi Susan! The tension was palpable in this piece!! Great work!

  8. Great points by Dianne. And I’d keep reading. My stomach got tight with just the little in the excerpt.

  9. Agree with the wordsmithing suggestions, but did love the tense, dark feel of what I read.

  10. I concur with Dianne: big picture, I really like this scene, and would definitely read on.

    Small picture (nitpicking) there are a a few writerly ticks that pulled me out of the story.

    The exercise sentence definitely needs to be rewords. The metaphor is kind of nice, but the sentence is too clunky. Perhaps:

    “Jeremy ducks the rain, futilely trying to dodge its descent, as if he will live forever in the spaces between the drops.”

    “Brown bangs” stood out to me. Characters don’t think about the color of each others hair when they already know each other.

    The road doesn’t need to be described as “wet and blurry.” One or the other should be enough, since we all know what it’s like to drive on a rainy night.

    Anyway, all in all, I really like this setup, and the characters are sort of charming. The writing is solid, and with a little editing, it can be as good as the big picture elements of the scene.

  11. Julie says:

    I really enjoyed reading this excerpt, Susan. Would definitely keep reading if I had the opportunity! I HATE driving in the rain at night so I really felt for Hailey here.

  12. I agree with Diane’s comments. The only thing I’ll add is that there are two separate mentions of hating driving in this short space. I think I’d condense them to the same location. I had an “I already know that” moment when I got to it the second time.

    Like Diane, I’m interested in reading more. 🙂

  13. Jemi Fraser says:

    The raindrop line threw me off too. I like the tension you’ve built in the page – nice 🙂

  14. I found myself hung-up on that line, too, but other than that I thought it was a smooth read. I’d keep going. 🙂

  15. Susan Oloier says:

    Thank you all for the suggestions. It’s always great to have another set of eyes (or two or three…) look at my work. I am pretty stubborn Taurus, though, so I may or may not take them 🙂
    Thanks so much, Dianne for having my first page on First Impressions today. It was great fun!

  16. Mina Burrows says:

    I really like the opening here. It was intense and left me wanting more. I agree with Dianne, is Jeremy a love interest?

  17. Pk Hrezo says:

    I agree… very nice beginning with some strong sensory details. Dianne mentions some really interesting points that I hadn’t considered upon first reading, but they’re valid points.

    Great job, Susan!

    Dianne, thanks for your warm wishes on my blog. And I went with the snowboard opening and chucked the entire prologue and frame of the story. Ah, that felt good. lol

  18. Lexa Cain says:

    I liked the excerpt very much. Like Dianne, the “Jeremy ducks down as if his little exercise…” stopped me. I didn’t get it. It felt like you were trying to be “literary” to prove you could, but it was coming from the author and not really from the character or in the character’s voice.

    Dianne hit the other salient points.

    Great beginning. Good luck! 🙂

  19. Robin says:

    Great start-the build up to what’s coming, her uncomfortableness behind the wheel, the winding slick roads and the sweet if drunk boyfriend.

    My only suggestion would be starting with a stronger 1st paragraph. the 2nd or 3rd sentence could possibly be cut, to get us into the action a bit faster.

    Nice job!

  20. Good tension in this scene. I had a clear picture in my mind too.

    I agree with Dianne’s critique. I would also delete, “He had so much to drink.” That’s already clear.

    Promising beginning. I’m already hoping they make the car ride home.

  21. Hi, Dianne, Hi, Susan,

    Really liked this piece Susan. Had to laugh at your comment about being a stubborn Taurus. Me too. April or May? I’m guessing May…

    Now back to your excerpt. Dianne points are very valid. I also found one or two sentences a bit off. Most of your descriptions are beautiful and created a very realistic atmosphere.

    The one sentence that hung me up was … “Before taking off ….”

    I would soften it a bit like “I glance at him before shifting into gear; his wet bangs hang limply in his face as he tugs his plastered shirt from his chest…”

    Just a suggestion lady Tauro … LOL.

  22. Susan Oloier says:

    Thanks for the additional comments. I need to print this out for my revision process. Just need to figure out how to do it (hmmm).
    Michael: I am a May Taurus. You, too?