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Dianne Salerni : Writer of Teen and Middle Grade Fiction | First Impressions: THE BLINDED GARDENER


First Impressions in February comes from Michael Di Gesu today. Michael is sharing the first page of his YA Edgy Contemporary novel THE BLINDED GARDENER.
One moment I’m Dad’s personal punching bag, and the next, well, I’m a pawn in his maniacal master plan. That was, until Danny entered the picture and discovered my secret …
Once again, I found myself at a new school, the third in two years. It sucked having to live by Dad’s starched and mind-numbing military code 24/7. How much more could I take? No honorable discharge was in my future. Not until I turn eighteen. That is if I live that long. 
As the son of a Marine Corps Captain, I had little choice in the decision making of my life. Dad used his usual tactics to persuade me to leave my mom and San Diego to move across the country with him. Needless to say, life in Beaufort, North Carolina wasn’t anything like I had expected. 
The warning bell rang for first period. Lockers slammed and the halls cleared. As I wandered about searching for my classroom, someone approached me from behind. Long bangs fell over his eyes as he loped past me with a kind of natural ease.
Didn’t he see me standing here, screwing around with this frickin’ map?
“Hey, dude. Could you tell me how to get to room 305?”
A slight curl formed on his lips as he faced me. He tossed his head. Platinum fringe shifted to the side and revealed freakish blue eyes that glanced toward me, unfocused.
Holy shit! Is he blind? Or is he stoned?
“I’m heading that way.” His deep voice held a trace of a southern accent. 
He glided toward the stairs. I envied his height: well over six feet and me just an average dude.
“You better move. Connors has little patience when you’re late.” He never looked back once, not even when he spoke.
I rushed to catch up to him. His hand overshot the dented metal banister. On the second swipe, he made contact and climbed the stairs. 
“What’s your name?” he asked, with his back to me. 
He turned the corner and rammed his shoulder into the side. “Damn!” He shook it off and coasted down the hall, stopping abruptly. “Here you are.” A glint of blue shot at me from under his bangs. “By the way, I’m Danny,” he said, low. He did an about face and slipped down another corridor. 
Strange. I wonder what his deal is?
Me, too! Is Danny blind or stoned? I honestly couldn’t tell, and I’m intrigued.
This is the second time Michael has shared the first page of THE BLINDED GARDENER at In High Spirits. Looking back at my previous comments, I see that I liked the alliteration in that first line when I read it before. I still do like it, but now I wonder if it’s a good idea to give away the punching bag scenario in the first line. Is this something Michael really wants us to know going into the story, or is it something we should find out when we actually meet the father? Also, the sentence is in the present tense – which would make it a good line to put in italics and have it be part of Aidan’s thoughts instead of narrative. In any case, I’m not sure if it should be the opening line, or if it would be better off moved to a different spot. Thoughts from readers?
I’d also like to see the back story woven into Aidan’s entrance into the school, to make it seem part of his thoughts rather than … um, back story. For example, life in Beaufort, North Carolina isn’t what he expected, but why is that? Is there something in this scene that reminds him he could have been in San Diego with his mom if his father hadn’t used his “usual tactics” to persuade Aidan to move across the country? I want to get to know Aidan before moving on to Danny, but I don’t want to be pulled out of the scene, either. So connecting what he sees and experiences to his thoughts about the past would be a good way to do it.
One last thing – Aidan’s thoughts should be in present tense, so it should be: Doesn’t he see me standing here .…

Readers, your thoughts? Especially on opening with a reflective paragraph before the first scene – I can’t make up my mind on that.  I think it might be a matter of personal preference. Some agents and editors will like it; others will object to it. Michael, thanks for sharing your first page with us! Michael can be found at his blog, In Time … and don’t forget to stop by Mainewords for Marcy Hatch’s critique of this page.

15 Responses to First Impressions: THE BLINDED GARDENER

  1. I knew I’d seen this before. Normally it’s best to sprinkle the backstory in with the narrative, so that it flows naturally, but sometimes certain circumstances don’t allow that.

    I don’t necessarily have a problem with knowing about the abuse right off the bat, but I would have to read more to say whether it works better or not for it to be revealed later.

  2. Hi Dianne and Michael – all I can is I was hooked .. but wasn’t reading to question … just loved the extract – and the title .. and the picture – that drew me in ..

    Cheers Hilary

  3. Great job, Michael. I didn’t mind the abuse in the intro, gave me a piece of who Aiden is. I really want to know what Danny’s deal is. Nice work.

  4. I think a reflective paragraph in the opening can totally work, but only if it’s immediately connected to what follows, not floating out there on its own little island, adrift in our thoughts… 🙂

    Technically, this is “weaving it in” but I think it does what you’re trying to do, which is establish up front that this is an important character issue. Something like…

    “The warning bell rang for first period. Dad’s starched and mind-numbing 24/7 military code made sure I had all my supplies for the new school. But all his Marine Corps tactics didn’t prepare me for life in Beaufort, North Carolina, where the guys were huge, and the girls all seemingly out of my league. I would have asked dad for a little time to get used to our new home, but showing up on my first day at school with a black eye probably wasn’t the best approach.”

    Or something like that. Obviously I’m making stuff up, and you know your story.

    Also: It seemed obvious to me that he was blind, not stoned, but maybe because I have a crush on Auggie in Covert Affairs. 🙂

  5. Quite an interesting Excerpt!

  6. Angela Brown says:

    I enjoyed reading the excerpt. Something to help ground me that we were at school a little closer to the beginning would probably help with that. Maybe not the “Kids in the hall” sort of thing, but maybe something where the MC shrugs is shoulder tighter to him because it’s colder than it would be in San Diego or perhaps he’s glancing at a mirror in his locker to make sure a certain mark isn’t showing or is well covered by the high collar of his shirt. Things like this could help open the door to weaving in the backstory of abuse and moving from San Diego without making it feel like backstory. Just some thoughts.

  7. SA Larsenッ says:

    Hi Michael!! Nice job.

    I agree with Dianne’s crit. The only things I’d add would be in the first paragraph, you’re using present tense for the first sentence and then past for the second. I’d probably use past for both. And your third paragraph could be moved to a little later in the piece. I was intrigued by the first few lines and wanted to be in this character’s here and now. 🙂 If you chose to move it farther down, you could thread the information more smoothly into inner thoughts, while the character is in dialog. Or have the character see something that reminds him of that information. Just a thought.

  8. Michael! Hey neighbor!

    I wasn’t ready to stop reading Michael’s excerpt. I definitely wanted more. 😉 Dianne also had some great comments about weaving in the backstory. Maybe Michael could start with the high school scene? I loved the part about the map he had out. Maybe start with that? Either way, as I said, I’m already wanting to read more of this.

  9. Joanne Fritz says:

    Hi Michael! I think your writing is powerful and I’m definitely intrigued about what’s going on. Especially what the deal is with Danny.

    The more I write, the more I try to start with the scene itself and then weave in the backstory. I did feel (before I read Dianne’s crit) that your first three paragraphs are all backstory. Susan Quinn did an excellent job of showing you one approach to weaving in the necessary info.

    That said, “The warning bell rang for first period” is not a compelling enough first sentence for an edgy YA novel. So you’d have to ramp that up a bit. Maybe adapt your current first sentence. Then skip the next few bits and start in with the warning bell. But it’s your story, and I’m confident you’ll find the right way to start it.

  10. I loved this excerpt and I think the abuse giveaway is okay, for me. I just finished Richard Ford’s Canada and in the first page you know the parents commit a bank robbery and that the sister runs away. Nothing comes as a surprise so I think this is more a writing style question.

  11. Lexa Cain says:

    Dianne’s third comment-paragraph hits it on the head. The sample’s backstory (first 3 paragraphs) just lays there like a beached whale while the reader waits to get to the story. Take it out, cut it into bite sized pieces, and insert it organically into the action. Yeah, it’s hard to do that and make it feel natural, but it makes all the difference.
    Good luck! 🙂

  12. Hi, Dianne,

    Thanks so much for the critique. You hit on some very good suggestions.

    I’d also like to thank everyone for your comments. I really appreciated the time and care you wrote in your suggestions.

    I will definitely use these in fine tuning the first page….

    Have a great weekend everyone!

  13. DL Hammons says:

    I found the transition between the first three paragraphs and the remainder of the page a little jarring. Other than that, it was very enjoyable. 🙂

  14. This sounds like the start of a terrific story. As to the opening paragraph, I do like it, but to me, it sounds more like a short blurb telling what the overall story is about, rather than the kick-off to the story itself. I think the opening would be stronger without it.

    Great start, though. I’d keep reading to learn more about Danny and the secret.

  15. Alison says:

    Dianne has such great insight! I really see a lot here to compel me to read more and that’s mainly in the characters. I do agree that showing the abuse, or rather, hinting at it, would be more effective (like the bruise when he pulls up his sleeve). Is it unrealistic that our m.c. would get mad that this guy (who has kind of a rebel rocker feel to me) wouldn’t naturally volunteer to help him with directions? And if so, why would he then
    ask him? I am completely drawn to the blue eyes. And I think there’s a compelling story here.