Monday, May 4, 2015

First Impressions - Blood Road




Happy Monday and welcome to another edition of First Impressions. Today we have the first page of BLOOD ROAD, an adult historical fantasy manuscript from Amanda McCrina. You can can find her on Twitter @9inchsnails (Ha! Love the play on words!). My comments will be at the end for the most part and do go see what Dianne Salerni thought of this first page if you have a moment.
 
***



 
He could see the sky in pieces between the tenements, bruised purple now with dusk.
At first he was glad for the darkness, because it meant they would be firing the beacon in the lighthouse at the point, and down each narrow cross-street now he craned his neck trying to catch a glimpse of the great light burning in the distance. By means of the lighthouse he could reorient himself. But the cross-streets twisted away into deep shadow between the tenements and there was the irksome thought at the back of his mind that if they had wandered so far into the city as not to see the lighthouse then they had wandered so far as to be where Imperial control was more a matter of theory than practice, at least at night.
Earlier, when the young summer sun was glaring white in a blue-glaze sky and the air under the awnings still and close and hot enough you could feel your skin baking in it--the tenements shut out the harbor breeze--the streets had seethed with people: sellers of figs and dates and pomegranates and honeyed almonds and goats’ milk and flavored ices and sour wine, and potters and silversmiths and leather-workers and basket-weavers at their shopfronts, and housewives browsing the market stalls, and slave girls with water in sloshing panniers over their shoulders, and naked children playing sticks-and-hoops along the foot-stones, and now and then a mounted official in white linen shouting and swearing until the crowd shuffled aside to let him pass. Now in darkness they were alone in the street. It was as though the rest of the city had died with the sun. The air, which was dry and rapidly cooling, was heavy with a silence that seemed to him very much like a bated breath. He would not mind the darkness if not for the silence. In a city such silence was unnatural.
Alluin, riding at his elbow, said, “Do you suppose they’ll look for us?--or just wait until our bodies turn up in an alley in a week or so?”
“I imagine they’ll expend the effort for me, if they wouldn’t otherwise trouble about you.”
“So there is some benefit to your acquaintance after all.”
“If not for my acquaintance you’d be just finishing the first course at the officers’ dinner.”
It had been his idea to explore the city. Alluin was city-born and indifferent: all cities were the same when you got down to it; there came a point when unwashed bodies and stray dogs and bad wine in dirty shops ceased to be as interesting as bed. But he, Torien, who could no more call himself city-born than Alluin, whose family owned one of the great latifundial estates, could call himself a farmer--he still had a provincial awe of cities, an itching, impatient need to see and hear and know. He had been determined not to idle away his time in Modigne behind the fort walls. True that he and Alluin had no more than a smattering of bastardized Modigno between them, and that Modigne was a rabbit’s warren of nameless, ancient streets, built and overbuilt in incongruous layers: in daylight that had seemed far less important than it did now. In daylight it had been enough to know he was an officer of the Imperial army, and a Vareno nobleman, with sufficient coin on his person for any foreseeable difficulty and a sword at his hip in the event his coin should fail. It was remarkable how in darkness you saw things more clearly. Certain things, anyway--other things than the way back to the fort or the direction of the harbor light. 
***

 My thoughts: Having read my fair share of adult fantasy, I expect a fair amount of description, especially if the place being described is of importance to the story. I especially loved the long third paragraph; I could totally imagine myself in that place with all its smells and sights and sounds. And I adored this line: "In daylight it had been enough to know he was an officer of the Imperial army, and a Vareno nobleman, with sufficient coin on his person for any foreseeable difficulty and a sword at his hip in the event his coin should fail." The problem in my mind is not so much that there's too much description, but rather that there's not enough character development. It doesn't matter how wonderful this city is unless I have someone interesting to follow. Torien sounds like he could be interesting, as evidenced by the comment he makes I liked so much, but that's the only real glimpse we get of his character. As for Alluin, I'm not even sure if he's a he or a she. Are the two of them are good friends or just acquaintances? I'm also curious about where they are/what they're doing. Aimlessly riding through the city? To what purpose? And how did they allow themselves to get lost? Torien strikes me as cleverer than that. 

My suggestion would be to start the first sentence with Torien's name: "Torien could see the sky in pieces between the tenements, bruised purple now with dusk." Then intersperse his thoughts throughout this first page, let us know what he's thinking, feeling. That will give us insight into his character and perhaps Alluin's - if he/she is important - as well as break up the long passages of description thereby improving the flow.

Lastly, I'd take a hard look at all those long sentences. I know. I love them, too. I'm guilty as hell of writing way too long sentences. But I've gotten better at inserting some shorter ones between them to liven the pace as needed. 

Now, readers, what do you think? Any thoughts or suggestions for Amanda? Interested in seeing your first page here and at author Dianne Salerni's place? If so check out my sidebar, top right for all the FAQs about First Impressions. And a huge thank you to Amanda for sharing her first page here. 

Friday, May 1, 2015

First Impressions - Hybrid


Happy May Day everyone and yes, in case you didn't know, I'm back from vacation and I have lots to share about everything I saw and did, including tons of pics. But before that, I've got a First Impressions thanks to Gwen Dandridge, who has graciously submitted the first page of her YA novel, HYBRID. You can also find Gwen here.


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. 
***

My thoughts: 1. "I kept my eyes on the two-holed outlet behind the woman speaking." This confused me. What is a two-holed outlet? An electrical outlet?
2. "Above that a large poster of the Lady holding a torch stared back at me." Above what? The outlet or the woman speaking?
3. "I ran the words through my head again before speaking aloud, “She says it will take time.”" Did the woman mentioned earlier speak? If so then maybe say: I ran the words through my head before repeating them out loud.
4. After that bit of confusion the rest read pretty smoothly to me and the set up comes nice and quick: Half Kurdish/half American girl is going to see America for the first time and possibly reunite with a father she doesn't know (or does she know him?). What a great what if! The only thing that might make this first page a little better is to give us a reason to care even more by sharing how our narrator feels about what's happening here. You show us a little by the way her gaze shifts about but I want to know more. Is she afraid to go to America? Does she want to go? What feelings arise at the memory of her dead relatives? Anger? Grief? That could really make this first page pop, imo. Not that I wouldn't have turned the page anyway..

Readers, what did you think of Gwen's first page? Any suggestions, comments? And do check out Dianne's thoughts on this first page over at her place. Lastly, Gwen, thanks so much for sharing your first page :)


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Burial


 

We buried our very old Jasper cat today, my son and I. He was a few months shy of nineteen years old (the cat, not the son). We were hoping he’d get one more summer. He spent so much of the last happily curled up in a chair on the deck in the sun.
The spot we chose to bury him sat between two small willow trees and my son dug the hole, found some big rocks to mark the grave. I wrapped Jasper in an old sweatshirt with a plush lining, hood over his face.
At some point my son said, “I’ve hit clay. That’s good.” And I wondered, was it? Was it good? Why? Because the clay made a better bed or because the clay indicated an end to digging? I wanted there to be an end. And Jasper didn’t need a very big hole. There wasn’t much left of the sleek black cat he had been.
Hard to believe it in light of the time he was gone for ten days in the dead of winter. No lie. He came home smelling like oil and I decided he must’ve gotten shut up in a garage but, really who knows what happened? It was one of his adventures.
Like the other time he was gone for three whole weeks one summer – no doubt off hunting or basking in some meadow while I called his name frantically every night. I was sure he was gone for good. Three weeks is a long time for a cat to be gone.
But then he came sauntering home, over the stone wall like always, a little leaner maybe, but otherwise in prime shape. Other adventures did not end well like the time he came home without part of his tongue. No clue what happened but he was fortunate he didn’t lose more otherwise he might not have been able to eat properly. Or that awful New Years eve. I was supposed to go out to a party when something horrific happened on the deck. And Jasper was out.
Outside I found blood and tracks that were too big to be a cat. I searched in the dark and the snow, but I did not find Jasper. And I did not go to the party.
I forget when he came home, hours later or maybe even the next morning, but once again, he’d survived another adventure - unscathed.
He probably had all kinds of adventures I knew nothing of, nights beneath the stars, running, chasing, climbing, all the things cats do out in the wild.
He was a lucky cat, I think as my son shovels dirt into the grave. 
I’ll tell you one more thing, about another black cat I had named Jader. After he died (too young, I might add) I had three dreams about him. In the first dream he was alive and well and it was good. In the second dream he was sick or badly injured. And in the final dream he was dead, but his ghost remained to comfort me briefly, telling me it was okay, he was fine.


Thursday, April 2, 2015

First Impressions - Riddle of the Ten Kingdoms



We have another First Impression for you today, this one from Deborah Graff who has submitted the first page of her MG Fantasy, RIDDLE OF THE TEN KINGDOMS. You can find Deborah on twitter attwitter.com/deborahgraffMy comments will be at the end (mostly) and to see what Dianne Salerni thought about this first page, head on over to her place.


***

A wooden sword’s better than no sword at all. That’s what Renn told herself as she circled Leo on the path bordering Father’s grapevines.
Villagers arriving to pick grapes muttered complaints as they dodged around her, though most had their eyes on the road where it twisted south into yellow-brown hills.  Soldiers were coming today to recruit for the king’s army. Everyone wondered when they would arrive, and which boy would win the test.
Renn got a better grip on her sword and shuffled side to side. Stay in constant motion, Father would say. She wished he were watching, but his eyes didn’t leave the road. Maybe if she got a hit, he’d notice. She could already beat every boy in the village except Leo. Maybe today was the day to change that.
She aimed for Leo’s heart and lunged. He parried with his own wooden practice sword, forcing hers to the side.
Leo smiled and raked his fingers through his springy black hair. “Too bad you don’t have a battle charm.”
“I don’t need elf magic.” Renn tried to think what a soldier would say and boomed, “I’ll win a place in the king’s army with my strength and my sword.”
“Your twig, you mean.” Leo came at her. Renn tried to block, but he was faster and jabbed her shoulder.
“That almost hurt,” she said, rubbing the spot.
“You’re not the strongest or fastest, Renn, but you’re bricky enough to beat anyone.” He grinned. “Except me.”
She couldn’t help but smile back. “Maybe we’ll both win the test.”
He drew in the dirt with the tip of his sword. “You know there aren’t any girls in the king’s army.”
She slashed her wooden sword in the air. “My father’s taught me as well as you and the other boys, even if he won’t let me use steel. He always says, ‘Train everyone for battle, try every day for peace.’ I just have to show how well I’ve been trained.” She pointed her sword at his chest. “Go again?” 
Instead of answering, Leo shaded his eyes from the rising sun and pointed south. Past the borders of Rowntree Village, where their own little path met the wide Victory Road, a cloud of dust rose between hills.
***

My thoughts: There are a couple of places where I think rewording would help:
Instead of "A wooden sword’s better than no sword at all. That’s what Renn told herself as she circled Leo on the path bordering Father’s grapevines." How about: Ren circled Leo on the path bordering her father's grapevines.
A wooden sword's better than no sword at all.
This way you're starting with Renn, who I assume is important than than the wooden sword.
Instead of "Soldiers were coming today to recruit for the king’s army. Everyone wondered when they would arrive, and which boy would win the test." How about, Soldiers were coming today to recruit for the king’s army and everyone was wondering which boy would win the test.
I think it reads a little smoother, but that's just me... 
‘Train everyone for battle, try every day for peace.’ Love this.
As for the rest...I might consider mentioning the fact that Renn's father is present earlier, only because it's obviously important to her that he's there. Other than that, I really like how much info is conveyed in this first page. We have Renn, a girl who knows how to use a sword, but will never be allowed to because girls aren't allowed in the army (although I suspect Renn's proficiency with the sword will come into play later...). We also have a contest, and elf magic, both of which should be enough to get any middle grader to turn the page and find out what's going to happen. I know I'm curious!

Deborah, thanks so much for submitting your first page and I hope my comments help. Readers, I hope you'll add your thoughts because you know how much we love comments on First Impression days. Ok. We like comments all the time, but we especially like to get as many comments as possible for our First Impressions, so thank you in advance!

Meanwhile, I'll be leaving soon for my ever so wonderful vaca to warmer climes and will be back at the end of the month, perhaps with something from the pawn shop files...
   

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

First Impressions - Ghost Tree


First Impressions is back this month and today I have the first page of GHOST TREE, a YA novel by Chuck Robertson. He blogs at authorwithadayjob and you can also find him on twitter, @chuckookoo. Author DianneSalerni will also be critiquing this first page so do go visit and see what her thoughts were. My thoughts will mostly be at the end.

***
The old, dying oak loomed high above me. Silhouetted against the darkening sky, its claw-like branches looked ready to reach down and snatch me at any second. Rather than get close to that creepy tree in the dark, I would just as soon have let my softball stay outside overnight. But it was the one my dad had given to me right before he went away. I couldn't leave it there.
I reached into the cool grass at the base of the tree and grabbed the ball. Pounding it into my glove, I backed away.
Christa.
I thought I heard someone call my name. "Hello?"
Crickets chirped. Fireflies drifted over the grass like yellow embers. Except for the night bugs, I was alone in the backyard, though. Maybe I was hearing things.
Christa Parker.
The voice came as a scratchy whisper. It grated on me like fingernails on a sheet of glass. And it was not my imagination. The back of my neck tingled. My pulse thumped in my ears. "Who's there?"
Hey, I'm up here. In the tree.
Slowly, I tilted my head. A misty human-shaped figure floated above me in the leafless branches. Its blurry, transparent face stared back. My stomach twisted itself into one gigantic knot. I stumbled backwards.
The image had to be my imagination, probably just a sheet caught in one of the branches. I threw my softball at the figure. The ball passed through it.  So much for the sheet caught in the tree theory. I turned and sprinted home.
The voice called to me as I fled. Please don't run. I need your help. 
My hands trembled as I groped for the door knob.  I tumbled inside, slamming the kitchen door behind me.
Mom and Samantha paused in their unpacking and gazed at me. Mom set the dish in her hand onto the table.  "Careful. You'll break the window, banging the door that way. That glass has to be at least a hundred years old. "
Still panting as if I had just slid into home, I leaned with my back against the door.
Mom squinted at me, bringing out a couple wrinkles around her eyes. "Are you all right?" 
"I'm not sure." I stared out the window to see if the ghost had followed me to the house. Nothing. 
Samantha brushed back a lock of her hair. Strawberry blonde this month. "For someone who's not sure, you look awfully scared to me."
***
My thoughts: I like the opening paragraph - a lot! It’s got a great spooky feel to it and I love spooky.
"Careful. You'll break the window, banging the door that way. That glass has to be at least a hundred years old. " I’d like to know how mom says this. Is she angry? Or has she said something like this before? Her expression could also cue us. This will make her more real for the reader – imo.
The last thing I’ll say (and it’s picky) is that I wonder how many teenage boys notice hair color. I’ve asked a fair number of male relatives about hair color and they seem to be pretty oblivious to it. But. If our narrator is the sort to notice his sister’s hair color, then he should be consistently observant throughout. This goes to character.
Other than that, I really liked this first page (and the title!) and would definitely have read on to find out what happens next. Who’s the misty ghost? What does she want? Have these people just moved here? Why? Lot’s of interesting questions…and only one way to find the answers: read on!

Now, what about you, dear readers? Any thoughts for Chuck?
            I’ll be back on Friday with another First Impressions; meanwhile, enjoy the A-Z madness!

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Cephalopod Coffeehouse - The Paper Magician


http://armchairsquid.blogspot.com/2015/02/the-cephalopod-coffeehouse-march-2015.html

Today I bring you another edition of the Cephalopod Coffeehouse. The idea is simple: on the last Friday of each month, post about the best book you've finished over the past month while visiting other bloggers doing the same.  In this way, we'll all have the opportunity to share our thoughts with other enthusiastic readers. 

This month I read The Paper Magician, which I really wanted to like - a lot! It has a gorgeous cover (it reminded me of the The Night Circus) and the blurb sounded exactly like something I would love:

Ceony Twill arrives at the cottage of Magician Emery Thane with a broken heart. Having graduated at the top of her class from the Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined, Ceony is assigned an apprenticeship in paper magic despite her dreams of bespelling metal. And once she’s bonded to paper, that will be her only magic…forever.

Yet the spells Ceony learns under the strange yet kind Thane turn out to be more marvelous than she could have ever imagined—animating paper creatures, bringing stories to life via ghostly images, even reading fortunes. But as she discovers these wonders, Ceony also learns of the extraordinary dangers of forbidden magic.

An Excisioner—a practitioner of dark, flesh magic—invades the cottage and rips Thane’s heart from his chest. To save her teacher’s life, Ceony must face the evil magician and embark on an unbelievable adventure that will take her into the chambers of Thane’s still-beating heart—and reveal the very soul of the man.

From the imaginative mind of debut author Charlie N. Holmberg, The Paper Magician is an extraordinary adventure both dark and whimsical that will delight readers of all ages.

Short-Listed for the 2015 ALA Fantasy Reading List 
***


I wish I had liked this more. I admit I was hoping for something akin to The Night Circus, which I adored. Unfortunately, The Paper Magician didn't quite measure up. But before I tell you why, let me tell what I did like. I loved the magic aspect of the story. The idea that one can bond to a particular thing and imbue magic into it was both unique and fascinating. The descriptions of birds and dogs and even a skeleton made of paper and brought to life were lovely and magical. Ceony thinks paper magic isn't very important when she first arrives, but she soon discovers the amazing things a magician can do with paper - like making snow flakes that sparkle and float and even feel cold, just like real snowflakes.

The problem for me was the characters. There was a lot of back story for the main characters, Ceony (and someone, please tell me how to pronounce her name) and Thane, which, had I known, might have made me connect with them more. I knew there was something dark in their pasts, but because I didn't find out until late in the story, I had a hard time caring much for either one of them. This made it hard for me to believe that Ceony would risk everything for her teacher/master, Magician Thane. I know a lot of back story is a no-no, but I would have liked more of it. I think I would've liked this book a lot better.

Anyway. I feel sad I didn't love this book. *sigh*

Monday, March 23, 2015

The well is dry/I got zip

So. You may have noticed I haven't been around much. There's a reason for that. I'm just not sure what it is. Maybe I just don't have anything I consider interesting enough to say any more. Maybe it's because I still haven't adjusted to my new schedule of working six days a week. Or maybe it's because right now I need to pour all my creative energy into what I'm working on now. Honestly, I'm not sure. I used to be able to blog AND write. I thought I'd never run out of things to say. But right now the only thing I'm finding compelling is my as yet untitled wip (I'm calling it by it's first chapter's name for now).

This doesn't mean I won't be posting. In fact, I actually read another book for the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, and Dianne and I have two First Impressions for April with room for one more. I also plan to celebrate a special anniversary at some point, maybe after A-Z is over, and I will certainly continue to visit all of you. So I'm not leaving. I just won't be here as much, at least for now.

In the meantime, I've added the first chapter of my WIP to my pages so you can see what I've been working on, and I'll leave you with a happy pic of some place I'll be visiting soon - for TWO WEEKS!!!


That might be another reason my creative energy is at an all time low; I need a vacation!



Tuesday, March 10, 2015

What I need...

1. I need someone who knows about contagious diseases, like the flu.

2. I need someone who works for a power company.

3. And the phone company, any phone company.

4. I need someone in the military, preferably the National Guard.


Can you guess what sort of novel I'm writing? If you said Apocalyptic you guessed right. Currently I'm on Chapter 17, which is after the Flood that occurs right off. That part was pretty fun to write, especially after reading that book about the Johnstown flood. But now I'm at a part where it would be really helpful to have the expertise of the aforementioned. I suppose I could just call my local phone and power company and see if someone would talk to me, let me ask a bunch 'what if' questions - briefly of course. And I do have someone in the military I can contact... which leaves a doctor. Wait! Why didn't I think of it?! My mom is a nurse! I can ask her all these hypothetical questions. She'll be horrified and probably say something like, "why on earth would you want to write about such morbid things?" but I'll bet she can answer all those pesky questions about contagion protocol and drugs and life saving measures...


I guess that means I don't need anything...except maybe for a little of this to come sooner...


Wow. I can't believe all that green. My world is still white. But it's melting... :)


How are your writing adventures going? Is the weather improving? Getting worse (I hope not)? Know anything about martial law?

Thursday, March 5, 2015

In which I tell you why crows are so awesome

https://www.etsy.com/listing/129850292/original-crow-on-a-branch-drawing-raven?ref=market

So. I've always liked crows, knew they were clever, and liked to collect sparkly shiny things. But. I had no idea they were as clever as this...

Apparently there's this little girl named Gabi, who lives in Seattle, who has an especially interesting relationship with the crows in her neighborhood. It began in 2011, when Gabi was four and prone to dropping food. "She'd get out of the car, and a chicken nugget would tumble off her lap. A crow would rush in to recover it. Soon, the crows were watching for her, hoping for another bite. As she got older, she rewarded their attention by sharing her packed lunch on the way to the bus stop. Her brother joined in. Soon, crows were lining up in the afternoon to greet Gabi's bus, hoping for another feeding session."

What's even cooler is that Gabi's mom didn't mind that the crows often got Gabi's lunches and in fact, took an interest them, "offering food as a daily ritual, rather than dropping scraps from time to time." It was after this that the crows began to leave gifts (you can see her whole collection and read the article in its entirety here and I urge you do so; it's a great article!). Now Gabi has a whole storage container full of presents the crows have left her, among them a pearl coloured heart , which she counts among her most prized possessions.

But the most interesting part about this story is what happened with Gabi's mom, Lisa, who "regularly photographs the crows and charts their behavior and interactions." While photographing a bald eagle in the neighborhood, she lost a lens cap in an alley. It turned up on the birdbath at home, and when she checked their bird cam on her computer, she saw a crow bring it into the yard, walk it to the bird bath, and then spend time rinsing the lens!!!

Lisa's comment? "They watch us all the time. I'm sure they knew I dropped it. I'm sure they decided they wanted to return it."

And that's why crows are so bloody awesome.

ps that crow pic is for sale on Etsy; click to see more...I want it.

Monday, March 2, 2015

First Impressions - The B.I.M. - Basic Intelligence Model.


Wow, it's finally March. We still have a ton of snow but the temperatures do seem to be inching ever so slowly upwards. Thank goodness! And welcome to another edition of First Impressions, where author Dianne Salerni and I each critique someone's first page. Today we have the first page of Tonja's MG Sci-fi, THE B.I.M. - BASIC INTELLIGENCE MODEL  2.




A chicken flapped past the window. Then another. Daniel shoved the kitchen chair aside and pushed his nose against the dirty glass pane.
      Talk about a feathered frenzy! Outside, chickens flapped everywhere. Up and down, left and right, feathers thick as clouds. Dead in the center of it all, waving his arms like a bird brain himself, was Uncle Bob. (I get a great visual in my head - chicken chaos!)   
      "Dag nab it, chickens! Get back into that coop!" The old man's voice thundered in the squawking storm.
      Daniel pulled back from the window before the old man saw him. Any other day, he'd go out there and help, but today wasn't just any other day. In less than an hour, all the boys in the sixth grade...well, soon to be seventh...would meet at the swimming hole for the biggest event of the year--the crowning of the Cannonball King.(Is this a public event or a private one...?) For the first time, Daniel had a real shot at getting the title. No way was he going to let a bunch of chickens ruin his chances this time!
      Ignoring the little voice in the back of his head, which told him to get his sorry backside out to his uncle, Daniel snatched a towel from the hook between the stained work coats and pushed open the back screen door. As it creaked open, a menacing snarl growled in his belly.  
      Darn it. No cannonball king could rule on an empty stomach.
      Luckily, the chickens still clucked and cackled away outside. Uncle Bob wasn't done with those birds yet, which gave Daniel plenty of time to snatch breakfast, one fit for a king. He spun back around and rushed to the refrigerator. The rusted door hinges squeaked as it swung open. But instead of a royal buffet, emptiness stared back at him. Two slices of bread and a carton of milk--barely enough to qualify as food let alone a meal. Daniel snatched a slice of bread, jammed it into his mouth and grabbed the milk. 
“It walks! It talks! Well, I’ll be dipped. I think it’s alive!” The screen door slammed shut sending a vibrating rattle through the kitchen. Pieces of straw fluttered down from Uncle Bob’s wild mane of white hair. The old man looked a lot like Santa Claus, not the clean ho-ho-hoey kind, but one that had rolled in the reindeer's straw while fixing an oil leak underneath the sleigh.
 ***

My thoughts: My first thought is that this seems like a pretty clean first page. There's great description, good voice, and we learn what Daniel wants, to be crowned the Cannonball King. We also get a glimpse into his life with his odd uncle, empty refrigerator, and a bunch of chickens. My only question is, why is being crowned Cannonball King so important to Daniel? And if it is so important, why didn't he think about preparing (eating breakfast) before? Aside from those questions, which might well be resolved on page two, I liked this first page and I think kids would like it, too. Daniel is very likeable and I'm curious to learn more about him and his eccentric uncle and strange life.

Tonja, thanks a million for submitting your first page. I hope I've been helpful! Readers, what did you think of this first page? Any comments or suggestions for Tonja? Want to know more about Tonja? You can find her here:

 


Don't forget to go see what Dianne thought of this first page, especially as she's more of an MG expert than I am. You can find her here :)

18 days 'til spring...





Friday, February 27, 2015

The Cephalopod Coffee House - The Martian

Hello and welcome to another edition of the Cephalopod Coffeehouse! The idea is simple: on the last Friday of each month, post about the best book you've finished over the past month while visiting other bloggers doing the same.  In this way, we'll all have the opportunity to share our thoughts with other enthusiastic readers.

This time, I actually have a book to tell you about:



The book starts with this ominous sentence:

"I'm pretty much fucked."

Ordinarily, I wouldn't advise starting your book with an F-bomb, but in this case it works and works beautifully, because Mark Watney, our intrepid narrator, is that kind of guy. A wise-ass to the core, incredibly geeky smart (he's a botonist AND an engineer), and he's just been left for dead on Mars. He's going to need his sense of humor.

Honestly? I give this five stars, which I almost never do. I ripped through this book in a matter of days,  completely engrossed in Mark Watney's effort to survive and his hilarious commentary on his plight:

"Remember those old math questions you had in Algebra class? Where water is entering a container at a certain rate and leaving at a different rate and you need to figure out when it'll be empty? Well, that concept is critical to the 'Mark Watney doesn't die' project I'm working on."

So far this is my favorite book of the year. Now we'll see if anything else can top it...
***

This review was brought to you thanks to the Cephalopod Coffee House. Click the pic to see who else participated!

http://armchairsquid.blogspot.com/2015/01/the-cephalopod-coffeehouse-february.html

Monday, February 16, 2015

Good news, bad news, and a winner!

The Good news is that the big snow never materialized here. Apparently the storm never pulled it together to dump the predicted 18-24 inches expected. Instead, we got maybe 4 inches. The bad news it did get even colder and we have frozen pipes - no water at all in the kitchen and only hot in the bathroom. Should make for a fun shower...plus another bail session.

But for the really good news we have a winner! Alex J. Cavanaugh! Congrats, Alex, Dianne will be in contact with you regarding your book :)

Everyone, have a super Monday and if you got buried by this last storm, you have my sympathies. I think this has been one of the longest, snowiest, coldest winters in quite some time. Let's think happy springy thoughts, shall we?


Friday, February 13, 2015

How I really feel about this winter

So. I wasn't going to post anything until Monday but then I heard something amusing (ha ha ha) on my way in to work this morning. It was a little before ten and the temperature at the bank said 8 degrees and the guy on the radio was talking about the big snow we're supposed to get this weekend (in addition to the big snows we've already gotten that have dumped three feet of snow on us already, mind you), and how after that it's supposed to turn bitter cold.

I almost laughed. It's frickin' 8 degrees out!!! Doesn't that qualify for bitter?!

Meanwhile, aside from the snow, my winter had been pretty shitty. My bathroom drain is frozen (I have skirting around my house rather than an actual basement), which means if I want to have a shower (and I do), I also get to bail the shower afterwards. Luckily the toilet is close by but I have to tell you, it's getting old. As is all the snow. And then to top it all off my driver's side window decided to come off its track - no doubt due to the BITTER COLD WE'RE HAVING - and settled into the all-the-way-down position. So tomorrow, in addition to my bail session, I get to drive to work with my window wide open, and somehow find time to get some plastic and gorilla tape before the snow hits tomorrow afternoon. Yay.


Oh, and did I mention it's really cold?


Sigh.

This is why I don't like winter.

On a happier note, I still love my job, I finished a book, and my main characters have finally made it somewhere safe. Now I get to make it unsafe ;)

Have a lovely weekend and if you're getting some of this snow, stay safe!


Monday, February 9, 2015

Guest Post - Author Dianne K. Salerni

Today I have a special treat, a guest post by author Dianne K. Salerni, whose fourth book - The Inquisitor's Mark: Book 2 in The Eighth Day Series - just released. Dianne is also graciously offering a paperback version of TED, a hardback version of TIM (US & Canada only for both of those), or an ebook version of ANY of her books (internationally). Winner's choice. All you have to do is comment.



Strange Research

I’ve often heard writers talk about the bizarre things they research for their stories. They laugh (a little nervously), and say that if the government were monitoring their Google searches, Homeland Security would probably be on their doorstep within minutes. Speaking for myself, I know that my personal library contains a few suspect reference books, and I might have accidentally left a book on poisons on the coffee table while hosting a family barbecue. (No, really, I forgot it was there. I wasn’t trying to scare off my in-laws.)

Travel research can also be really bizarre. Cool – and tax deductible – but also twisted in a way only authors can appreciate. I’ve twice been to a creepy cemetery in the boondocks of Pennsylvania, researching for The Caged Graves.


I climbed a pyramid in Mexico to plan out the climax of my urban fantasy, The Eighth Day, and took some of the usual, tourist-y pictures.


But I also scoped out the one spot where my hero Jax and his guardian Riley could hunker down and be shielded from bullets if the bad guy were shooting at them from the top of the pyramid. As far as I know, no other tourists at the Pyramid of the Sun were calculating line of sight for guns that day unless they happened to be a) terrorists or b) other writers.


For my most recent release, The Inquisitor’s Mark, the second book in the Eighth Day series, I visited the Central Park Zoo for the specific purpose of breaking into the snow leopard enclosure. Uh, fictionally breaking into it, that is.

You see, in the second book, Jax and two of his friends are being chased through the zoo by bad guys, and my original plan was for them to climb the plexiglass wall overlooking the polar bear exhibit, hang from the opposite side, and then drop into the enclosure. I didn’t even visit the zoo to plan the scene – just looked at pictures online and wrote it all out.


But one of my editors (a frequent zoo visitor) pointed out that the beloved Central Park polar bear, Gus, had recently died and that the fate of this exhibit was uncertain. It might get turned into a penguin exhibit. Hiding with penguins didn’t have the same impact as hiding with polar bears. But the only other carnivores at the Central Park Zoo are the snow leopards, and that enclosure is completed fenced in, including the top of it. How would Jax and his friends get in?

The only solution to this plot dilemma was a trip to NYC and Central Park Zoo to see the enclosure for myself. Suffice it to say, I did figure out a way to get inside. While I was documenting this with pictures, one of the snow leopards sauntered into view, delighting the zoo-goers, who snapped dozens of pictures.  If I had been one of them, I’d be showing you a photo of a snow leopard now. Unfortunately, all I’ve got for you are eye-bolts. I missed the leopard.


And to top-off my weirdo visit to the zoo, I posted some pictures on Facebook and declared triumphantly that I’d found a “flaw” in the snow leopard enclosure.

OMG, one of my FB friends posted, I hope you reported it!!!!!

Sigh. Another Homeland Security moment.

 ***
Thanks a bunch for coming by, Dianne, and readers, I will announce the winner of the giveaway next Monday. Have a great week! 




Friday, February 6, 2015

First Impressions - Summer's almost over


Woohoo! First Impressions is back with a new first page! Don't know about First Impressions? It's easy and it's fun. All you have to do is send your first page to either of us along with genre, age group intended for, and a pic - either of you or something related to your tale - and we'll critique that first page on both our blogs. Check out my side-bar for more info.


http://lizisaacson.blogspot.com/
Today we have the first page of  SUMMER'S ALMOST OVER, an adult romance from Liz. As always, you can find out what Dianne K.Salerni thought about this first page at her place.




 SUMMER'S ALMOST OVER


Sophie pasted on a fake smile as she leaned out the window of her taco stand—The Sandy Tortilla—and handed an order of carne asada quesadillas (should this be italicized?) to a woman who was obviously one half of a newlywed couple.
She’d been working the stand for enough summers to recognize the glow of the newly hitched, even without the enormous diamonds . (does Sophie know they're real diamonds? Can she tell or does she guess?) The way they looked at each other with moons in their eyes; how the men couldn’t stand more than two inches away from their wives; the women in their honeymoon swimming suits.
Yes, Sophie she'd had seen enough newlyweds to overdose on sweetness without even getting a taste of sugar. Her stomach lurched (lol!)as she returned to the orders hanging above her grill. She focused on tossing the chicken onto the flattop, slathering the cilantro spread on the tortilla, and crisping up the chips. Love this paragraph.
With her utmost concentration on her cooking, she didn’t have room to obsess over Mark. Aha!
“Chicken verde,” she called out the window, and a teenage girl stepped forward. At least she wasn’t in her mid-twenties with a huge rock on her finger.
Sophie glanced down at her left hand, where, until recently, she had worn a gold band with a single diamond on it. With a little imagination, she could see a tan line where the ring had sat for nine months.
Mark didn’t want to set a date, something that frustrated Sophie. She liked deadlines, and making lists, and meeting goals. Without a date for the wedding, she couldn’t plan the event.
Which is just fine now, she told herself as she dropped an order of taquitos into the fryer.
“We’ll need more chips,” Jenna said over her shoulder as she put up yet another order.
“On it.”
Jenna had one year of high school left, and Sophie knew she needed money for college. Sophie was more than happy to help her—she was tan and blonde, which attracted customers. Even better, Jenna was never late.

 ***

My thoughts: Aside from what I noted, I really liked this first page. My only suggestion might be to move  the third paragraph to the second position so we get to see who Sophie is sooner. I really like the way this is set up, too, with Sophie cooking and thinking about what's going on but without telling us everything, which makes us want to read more. I sure want to know why Sophie isn't wearing that ring anymore!

Nice first page, Liz! And thanks for sharing :)






Monday, February 2, 2015

RedPoll

First off, my apologies. I told you Friday Dianne Salerni would be here today with a guest post but, silly me, I got my dates wrong and Dianne won't be here until NEXT Monday. There will also be a giveaway so do come back. Meanwhile, my son got a few pics of a Red Poll (pronounced 'pole') who came to visit.



Isn't she pretty?

Friday, January 30, 2015

The Cephalopod Coffeehouse presents:

I am sad to report that for the first month ever I have yet to finish any of the three books I have going:
Moby Dick












Great North Road












The Wolf's Hour












My only excuse is that I've also been doing some reading on the 1917/18 Influenza epidemic (which has yet to yield the information I'm seeking, I might add), and...I found a Scrabble app. This past week I did finally attend a little more to reading and focused on a single book (Great North Road, if you're interested) but I am still only 30% done. Not very impressive.

C'est la guerre.

Meanwhile, do check out the other folks who probably did actually read a book here:

http://armchairsquid.blogspot.com/2014/12/the-cephalopod-coffeehouse-january-2015.html

And come back on Monday when I have a very special guest post from one of my favorite authors, Dianne K. Salerni.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Ball Security

So. Unless you've been living under a hedge in the wilds you've heard all about ball security and how the Patriots may have been playing with deflated balls in their crushing defeat of the Colts (45-7). As it stands the investigation is still on-going with a final ruling not expected until after the Superbowl. But it's been the talk of the town. There's been stuff about how to talk to your kids about 'deflate-gate,' a segment on NPR about it, and last Friday Sesame Street's word of the day was 'inflate.'

Really? Ball security is that important?

More important than making a big deal out of Ray Rice knocking his fiance unconscious? (2 game suspension)

More important than Adrian Peterson using a switch on his 4-year old that caused "visible swelling, marks and cuts"? (suspended without pay for final 6 games)

More important than Michael Vick's conviction for orchestrating a dog fighting ring? (served 2 years in prison, currently with the Jets, poor thing)

Personally, I think the above issues far outweigh an improperly inflated football but if ball security is truly that important then I have a suggestion - two actually. I think the NFL needs to put someone in charge of ball security. One person whose sole responsibility is to make sure the balls in play are inflated to the proper psi. Either that or start filling the damn things with nitrogen so they won't be affected by a change in temperature.

Don't get me wrong. If the Patriots screwed around with the balls they should be punished - fairly - but Good God!  Do we really need to keep harping on this? Is this really the most important thing that's ever happened in the world of sports? Can't we talk about something else - like who's going to win the Superbowl and how?!


Anyway. My son makes me listen to The Big Jab (sports talk radio, fascinating stuff) in the morning and I had to weigh in. Meanwhile, we're waiting for the snow to start falling in expectation of this massive blizzard that's supposed to dump 1-2 feet of snow on us. I just hope I don't lose power...


Thoughts on 'deflate-gate?' Hate the Pats? Got snow?

Friday, January 23, 2015

Not for the faint of heart

The other day my son was perusing Netflix and came across this... amusing film. Being a good son and knowing I'd get a kick out of it, he shared.




But even better was this brilliant review by some unknown soul:

"The chicken has declared jihad on us all!" As with all of the everything - plus - the - kitchen sink Troma yukfests, this is not for every taste. Of course, you have the obligatory Troma trademarks of lesbianism and breast jiggling, but this is for that discerning viewer who truly enjoys projectile vomiting, phallo -and anal-centric invasions and diarrhea explosions. (Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe Lloyd's use of a zombie-finger as a buttplug is the first in zombie movie history.) I'm going out on a limb here, but this just may be the best horror sexploitation - zombie - chicken gross - out nihilistic musical extravaganza ever made. And I'm not just saying that because I know him personally and he might be reading this. Really. I'm not."

It had me in stitches. I just had to share.


Monday, January 12, 2015

Inspiration



This picture inspired me. Made me think about disasters, something my number one brother and I share a love for - on screen that is! And while the flooding wasn't quite so bad in my WIP, I have a few more disasters up my sleeve to torment my characters with. Like this:









My characters are about to leave this place in search of answers.

It's been slow going. I've been working on this since November and am just now closing in on 20K. But. I think my chapters are more coherent and that there will be less to revise later, less major stuff. We'll see...

So. What's inspiring you?