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

First Impressions: LIVING RUNAWAY

Our third submission for First Impressions in 2014 is a YA Contemporary from Tammy Theriault, titled LIVING RUNAWAY:
 “Mom?” I called out, tossing a stack of envelopes towards the kitchen island, spreading them like wings in midair. “I got the mail!”
            Walking to my room, ready to dump another bad year of school, I heard a distant smack to the fake tile echoing against rose colored walls.
            “Crap.” I turned, finding half the mail spread out on the linoleum. “Seriously? Could this stupid day get any worse?”
            I gathered up the pile, placing it back on the counter just as a manila envelope peeked out from the clutter.
             “Mom?” I called out again. “I’m home! Half day, remember?”
             “I’m in the bathroom!” She yelled from down the hall.
            I quickly pulled the large envelope out and turned it over. My name was typed on a white label, but with no return address. I flipped it over a few times more to find the sender, but all I could see was a round bulge sliding up and down inside.
            And it was for me.
            “Yes!” I said,dropping my backpack on the floor. “Finally.”
            I stared at the envelope held in my now eager hands, anticipating what was inside, knowing Mom had told me to stop going through the mail. But this was different. This was the one I was waiting for.
            I smiled, ready to tear into the gift and see what Dad used as his I-didn’t-forget birthday present.
            I tore open the flap, trying to think where Mom said he went for his business trip this time. Where ever this was from, I was more stoked that he remembered my eighteenth birthday was coming up. Through all his recent late night drunken stupors, drowning in bourbon, late night TV and what he called the stresses of a new management job in sales—he remembered.
            Reaching half way inside, I pulled out a pink sparkly card announcing my birthday had arrived. I opened it to find nothing more than a typed note.
            “Happy Birthday, Emily. I’m sure Daddy would’ve loved to see his little princess.”
            I read the line again, unsure of why “see” was capitalized, but dismissed it, throwing the card on the counter. Shaking the envelope upside down, readying my hand beneath it for my present, a cold Saran Wrap wad fell into my palm, trickling bits of red juices from its open creases.
            “What the…”
            I squinted hard to see inside of it without opening the plastic wrapping, trying not to get more of the liquid on me. But all I could make out was something round…with a pink limp stem…and a dark…blue…iris.
Gasp … HOW HORRIBLE! At first I saw iris and I thought flower. I thought he sent her a flower. Then I realized …
This is bad. Was he kidnapped? Is it even his eyeball? This is clearly a threat to Emily as well as to her father – who I’m betting is not really a sales executive.
Backing up to critique the page, I think there are a number of things that need to be made clearer. A small, unimportant one – but it is the first thing that happens – is throwing the mail on the counter. What I think happened is she threw the mail at the counter, the envelopes hit and fanned out, and slid right onto the floor. This could be stated more directly. There’s no reason to get into fake tiles or the color of the walls.  Additionally, having the mail fall on the floor doesn’t seem a reason for Emily to exclaim, Could this stupid day get any worse? It’s a minor annoyance, but if she’s had a bad day, then elaborate here – or drop it altogether.
Next, her mother had told her to stop going through the mail. Why? The horrifying delivery she just received is an excellent reason for her mother not to want Emily opening the mail, but is there another, perfectly mundane reason?  Is it that Emily is looking for validation and attention from her absentee father, and the mother hates seeing her disappointed? In that case, rather than Emily thinking: This is different. This was the one I was waiting for. – she ought to be thinking: Ha, Mom! I was right. He didn’t forget.

Finally, on a more practical note – if this really is an eyeball, could it survive going through the mail in an envelope? I honestly have no idea how hard or squishy it might be, nor do I want to know!  A box might be better, although I realize that wouldn’t blend in with the mail and would have caught Emily’s attention earlier. How about a padded envelope at least?
Readers, what feedback can you give? Tammy, thanks for sharing your chilling first page with us. Readers, you can find Tammy at her blog, and don’t forget to stop by Mainewords for Marcy’s impression of this page.

15 Responses to First Impressions: LIVING RUNAWAY

  1. Angela Brown says:

    I enjoyed reading this sample. The things you point out are things that didn’t catch my eye but that doesn’t mean they could/coudn’t be adjusted for clarification.

    When I read about the eyeball part, I got the distinct feeling it wasn’t delivered by USPS. More like hand-delivered to the mailbox. Still…ewwww!!

  2. Oh I see what you did there!

    What a great way to end the scene and it definitely grabbed my attention. I agree with Dianne about the mail missing the counter scene, but the other parts didn’t bother me as much. What I want to know is who is sending eyeballs through the mail, and who is missing an eye! Great job Tammy and I enjoyed reading your critique, Dianne. (:

  3. Tiana Smith says:

    Ewwwww! Gross! Yep, I agree with Dianne’s points on this one 🙂

  4. Thanks so much for having me over!

  5. Great comments made. Strong piece, Tammy! You caught my eye. Ha! 😉

  6. Wow. I’m afraid I said, “OMG” at the end.
    And that is a good thing too, LOL.

    I agree with Dianne’s assessment.

    In addition, since this is your first page, nailing that reader’s attention is all-important. Don’t lose it in the weeds. Cut words with ruthless intent. Example:
    “Mom?” I tossed a stack of envelopes on the kitchen island. “I got the mail!”
    I pulled the envelope out and turned it over. My name was on it but no return address. No sender. Inside, a round bulge slid up and down.

    My opinion: The hook is *very* strong. But use this time to make short, dramatic sentences. Use no, absolutely NO adverbs like ‘quickly’. And very few adjectives. Introduce a smell. Oh, yeah. The package is gonna smell. *cringe*

    An amazing sub. Really. I wanna know more.

  7. Wow! I’m duly impressed. I did NOT see that eyeball coming. (But I’d sure be interested in where the story goes from here!)

    I agree with Dianne’s assessment. Years ago, some of the medical research I did was done on cow eyes. Not exactly the same as human eyes, (They’re BIGGER!) but I’d imagine human eyes are pretty darned tough, too, and difficult to puncture, so I don’t think it would be “squishy.” Not sure how long it’d stay “fresh” in an envelope, though. Maybe an overnight or hand delivery? Might have a bit of an odor, too. Even the ones I picked up from the abattoir… packed on ice… had an aroma.

    Great start, Tammy!

  8. I LOVE how this first page ends, no questions asked. SUPER stellar grab-the-reader-by-the-throat. But, as a casual reader, I’m not sure I would have gotten that far. I want to be struck on the first line. I want to know the MC and the trauma of her word in the first line. If this opened with the MC staring at the shipping label and excited to open it, all kinds of anxieties pumping through her brain–with a QUICK reflexive look at her environment–that would have grabbed me. I like the polar opposites of a typical day, nothing out of the ordinary to “HOLY CRAP, WHAT JUST HAPPENED?!?” That said, I didn’t have any questions or drive from the first line or first paragraph to keep going. Awesome hook. Hook me sooner. =)

  9. These comments are gold and funny thing is I say the same things when I beta! Choppy sentences are great for action scenes. Guess when it’s your own work you miss that. LOL

  10. Great first page. I agree with what Dianne and the others said. I’d suggest getting to the mysterious letter a bit quicker. Until I got there I was wondering why we care about the mail. But sounds like a fantastic start to your story.

  11. Steven says:

    Dianne, I agree with your critiques. I also felt like the buildup to opening the envelope was a little too long, by a sentence or two. Tightening that up and including the information you mentioned would make everything flow much smoother. I have to admit the eyeball caught me completely off-guard, so I would continue reading if I had just picked this up in a bookstore.

  12. Pk Hrezo says:

    Eep! I meant to get over here sooner but was traveling since Thursday. Awesome feedback here! It’s such a compelling hook already, with these suggestions it’ll be even stronger.
    WTG Tammy! 🙂

  13. Suze says:

    Hi, sweets. I’ve read the piece–sorry it took me so long to get over here–and I definitely have some things I’d love to talk over with you in response to this snippet.