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

First Impressions: HYBRID

Gwen DandridgeOur first submission for First Impressions in May comes from Gwen Dandridge. This is the first page of HYBRID, a contemporary YA novel.

***

Prologue

2004 Mosul, Iraq

 

An electric fan whapped around and around, barely stirring the hot, dry air. I kept my eyes on the two-holed outlet behind the woman speaking.

Above that a large poster of the Lady holding a torch stared back at me. It had something to do with America and freedom.

My eyes wandered to my left where a gold flag, with a white-headed eagle in its center caught my attention. Screaming Eagles, 101st  Airborne Division.

Mawoma, my mother’s father, snapped his finger across my wrist to get my attention, an impatient gesture from an impatient man.

I ran the words through my head again before speaking aloud, “She says it will take time.”

He slapped the bundle of papers against the gray steel table with his vein-lined hand. “Tell her this is what we have, all you need.”

“I did.” I reply. He could understand as well as I.

“Tell her again.”

The woman’s buffed fingernails lay like stone chips on the other side of the desk.

“Mawoma says that these are the correct papers.”

She pursed her lips, flipping through the papers again. “I see that, but as I keep telling you, this isn’t something that happens in a day or a month. It takes time. No matter the paperwork.”

She leaned back. “Where is your mother?”

“Dead. She was a translator for you Americans during the Kuwait war.”

She then pointed to my grandfather, “You have relatives here, kinsmen.”

I stared back down at the outlet, remembering the last time I had seen my aunt, my grandmother, my uncle. Remembering the wailing as they were buried under the hard rocks beneath a clear blue sky.

Mawoma snapped my wrist again. “Lift your head, Nazê. Let the part of you that is Kurdish speak.”

The woman’s eyes followed his hands, then steepled her fingers. “Help me understand. Why is a thirteen-year old Kurdish girl being sent by herself to live in America?”

I couldn’t raise my eyes. I repeated what I’d been saying for the past hour. “Half-Kurdish. My father is American, Stephen Dupres. He came with the Americans after the Kuwait war.”

She wrote that down then shifted through the papers on her desk. “He was with Operation Provide Comfort? That division has been gone for years.”

 I shrugged. “Maybe. Is that what the papers say?” I felt Mowatma’s gaze hit me.

***

As I mentioned in a recent First Impressions post, I once took an online seminar with an agent who said that the things he looks for most in the first page of a YA novel is a connection to the main character and a sense of conflict.

The conflict here is clear. Nazê’s mother is dead; her father is an American. Her grandfather wants to send her to America, and there is, of course, lots of red tape in the way.

What I don’t get a sense of is Nazê’s feelings on the matter. She keeps looking at the electric outlet (why?), her eyes pass over the symbols representing America, she translates for her grandfather, and she mentions her father by name. But the only hint of emotion I see is in her description of her grandfather: an impatient gesture from an impatient man. That’s the only line where we get a perspective and commentary from her, and I think it’s my favorite in the passage.

Nazê may be suppressing her feelings – probably is, in fact. But I’d like to see them simmering below the surface. How does she view those American symbols of freedom? With skepticism? With hope? Are they too foreign for her to grasp?

When she says her father’s name, does she feel anything? Or is he a stranger to her, nothing but a name?

And when the woman points out that she has relatives here in Iraq – and she has that flashback to her kinsmen dying in the rubble – I’d like to feel something from her. Even if its numbness in the shock of the enormity of their deaths. Readers, what do you think?

Gwen, thanks for sharing your first page with us. Marcy will have her own comments on this page at Mainewords today, and you can learn more about Gwen and her books at her website.

 

 

7 Responses to First Impressions: HYBRID

  1. Tiana Smith says:

    For the first while, I thought this was some kind of an interrogation where someone was going to get waterboarded or something. I didn’t really get a sense of the emotion either in the room, and I think that would help, especially because as of right now, she’s acting older than 13. A 13 year old would have more emotions about this, even if she were suppressing them.

  2. Thank you so much for the feedback. This helps a bunch in my revising!

  3. Lexa Cain says:

    First, I agree with every point Dianne made. (Smart lady!) For my own impressions, when I started I assumed the narrator was American and visiting a Persian household that had posters of the US on the walls. It isn’t that unusual. Middle-Easterners idealize the western lifestyle and often wear western clothes with US symbols, logos, and place names on them. (Yesterday, my Egyptian taxi driver was wearing a shirt with the picture of a cactus and “Phoenix, Arizona” stitched across the back.) I think it would be better to describe the woman so I know what ethnicity she is, mention if they’re in an embassy or NGO, and definitely forget about the outlet. It adds nothing to the story or characterization, unless your mc’s got OCD and loves outlets. Your mc lives in your head and you know every single thing about her. But your reader knows nothing. It’s crucial to reveal (or at least hint at) what her goals are and the stakes, along with some feelings or she comes off as emotionless. Good luck! 🙂

  4. One more thing, the verb ‘whapped’ struck me as odd. My feeling is you don’t want things like that attracting attention.

    I agree there is not a lot of personalization in the beginning. If you could show her feelings better, it would be more effective.