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Dianne Salerni : Writer of Teen and Middle Grade Fiction | Spooktacular Winners & First Impressions: THE SUMMER SHAKESPEARE SAVED MY LIFE

Spooktacular Winners & First Impressions: THE SUMMER SHAKESPEARE SAVED MY LIFE

First, the winners of the Spooktacular Giveaway were selected the old-fashioned way. I put all the names into jars, where they were pulled by Dread Daughter the Younger. The winners are:

  1. signed copy of WE HEAR THE DEAD — Caroline
  2. signed ARC of THE CAGED GRAVES — nfmgirl
  3. Kindle ebook of TWO & TWENTY DARK TALES — vicjbr
Winners, congratulations and please contact me at dksalerni@gmail.com so I can send you your prizes! If I have not heard from you by November 9, I will select other winners.
Next, our first submission for First Impressions in November comes from Serena Kaylor, who happens to be the sister of my critique partner, Krystalyn Drown. This is the first page of her contemporary YA, THE SUMMER SHAKESPEARE SAVED MY LIFE.
Today is the first day of the rest of your life. 
A drug rehabilitation group coined this phrase in the 60s, as a way for its members to feel like they could reinvent themselves.  You can find this sentiment in song lyrics, on coffee mugs, and encouragingly uttered by my Nana Quinn when I update her on the status of my love life.  The problem with this phrase is that it indicates I am unhappy with the way things are, that I don’t find myself to be an absolute delight. 
Well, maybe I’m a little rough around the edges, but theater camp is not the way to polish me up.  I imagine that all of Oxford University’s other incoming freshmen are taking summer courses, or moving to England to become oriented with the campus.  My summer is apparently going to involve tights. 
I really didn’t have a choice.
You’d think most parents would be thrilled that their progeny had studied their ass off for years, could debate on a great number of topics, and was one of the few chosen to continue their education in the most hallowed of halls. 
My parents are both sex therapists and want me to continue living at home, and follow in their footsteps at Berkeley. 
This is what I’m dealing with. 
I didn’t even get a boisterous “Hallelujah!” when I told them the good news.  They just sat down on the worn, leather love seat in their study, and fixed their therapist stares on me.
“Honey, don’t you think you’re a little young to move that far away?” Sophia said tying her long, dark hair up with one of her many floral scarves.
“Please. I’m seventeen years old, which actually means a lot more in England.  I’m practically drinking age! Plus, I finished all my high school classwork almost two years ago!  I can’t just hang out here forever.” I folded my arms across my chest and gave them my beat-that look.
“Ellie, we’re just concerned because you’ve never really had classmates before, and that can sometimes be a difficult transition,” Edwin, my dad, piped up in solidarity. 
I love the premise of this story: A straight-laced, serious, home-schooled girl with Berkeley-educated sex therapist parents gets accepted into Oxford but has to jump through her parents’ hoops (including a summer Shakespeare camp) to get permission to go. I also liked the first line, but after that I think the order of presentation could be improved.
Serena could jump straight from the quote in the first line to Ellie sitting down for this interview with her own parents, which sounds more like a therapy session than a family conversation. The information from the opening paragraphs could be conveyed just as easily through dialogue and Ellie’s internal monologue. Certain lines – like the one about Nana Quinn worrying about her love life and what other Oxford freshmen were doing and how their parents were proud of them – could be woven between the lines of dialogue with Ellie’s parents.
Imagine the first page happening this way:
1. Positive-sounding therapist double-speak from Ellie’s parents.
2. Reasoned, logical spoken response from Ellie.
3. Internal indignant rant from Ellie.
4. Repeat 1-3 as needed until conclusion of scene.
The reader would see the complex dance between Ellie and her parents, grasp the situation, and watch Ellie lose her case (and be sent to Shakespeare camp) in one dynamic scene. What do the readers think?
Serena, thanks for sharing your page today, and I hope the feedback is useful! Readers can say hello to Serena at her blog, See Serena Write, and don’t forget to check out Marcy Hatch’s feedback at Mainewords.

14 Responses to Spooktacular Winners & First Impressions: THE SUMMER SHAKESPEARE SAVED MY LIFE

  1. Nice critique! You make some useful comments. Not my kind of story but horses for courses! Great post!

  2. SA Larsenッ says:

    I think jumping from that first quote to where Ellie is sitting for the interview would definitely pick up the pace, add intrigue. Great crit! Best of luck to Serena.

  3. I was sold at the title. 🙂

    I thought the beginning was good but I love Dianne’s idea to help pick up the pace so it doesn’t feel like too much backstory in the beginning.

    Good luck, Serena. 😀

  4. I think Dianne’s critique is spot on. Allow the reader to experience the MC’s predicament through dialogue and action. 🙂

  5. Angela Brown says:

    I read this piece twice before going to Dianne’s critique because I kind of got a bit lost after the opening line. Or my attention span is really shrinking (which could be the case, seriously).

    Having read it the second time, I, too, agree with Dianne’s assessment. By interweaving the verbal debate with the non-spoken narrative and signals, you keep the reader engaged and really gives the reader an understanding of the family dynamic.

  6. I don’t have time to go deep with this today, but I will just quickly say: I like it!

  7. Serena says:


    Thank you so much for the critique! After reading your notes, and reading over my work, I can really see what you mean! I need to make sure I don’t accidentally get stuck in my/her head, and fill up my book with monologues. 🙂

    I am hoping to finish the book this month, and then I can begin the very long process of editing. I will be sure to keep your advice in mind!

    Thanks to everyone else for the advice and words of encouragement!


  8. Robin says:

    The premise is awesome-I can see so much fun and so many twists along the way. Also, I’m married to a therapist, so I can picture this scene all too well. I’d do as Dianne suggests, move the back story, get us into the action.

    I loved the line about tights!

    The first line is okay, but it doesn’t tell us anything specific about your character, her story. It could be the start of any story, so I’d change it up with something specific to your MC.

    Good luck!

  9. vicjbr says:

    Hi, I won the kindle ebook my amazon email is mrsbrinius@comcast.net

  10. Jess says:

    Congrats to the winner and great job on the critique! I loved reading both the excerpt and your take on it 🙂

  11. Lexa Cain says:

    Hi Serena!
    I’ve read Marcy’s crit (on her blog) and agree about “telling.” I also agree with Dianne’s ideas about how to fix it.

    Personally, I’d go a bit farther. I think you’re starting the novel in the wrong place. It seems the parents won’t appear in the book very much (and shouldn’t since it’s YA), and so there’s no real reason to introduce them. Since the premise of the book is that she’s going to Shakespeare camp, it’s a foregone conclusion that she’ll lose this debate with her parents. Therefore, there’s no real tension or conflict in this scene — the reader knows what will happen.

    Unless something extremely important will happen to her in town before she leaves for the Shakespeare camp, I’d start the novel when she arrives at the camp, meets people, and moves in. Any info about how she got there, who her parents are, her college hopes, etc. can be inserted a little at a time in backstory.

    Good luck. 🙂

  12. Here’s a switcheroo… I actually read Marcy’s post first. Anyhow, I love the premise of this story, and REALLY like the idea of a family dialogue that sounds more like a therapy session. Good thinking, Dianne. And good writing, Serena.

  13. CONGRATS to the winners!

  14. Julia Tomiak says:

    Nobody’s mentioned this yet, but I like the voice of your MC. She sounds spunky. To the point. I agree, find an opening line specific you your MC (the line about tights is fun), and follow Dianne’s ideas about the order.
    Great job!