Monday, May 2, 2016

First Impressions - Overland

Welcome to First Impressions, whereby we (Dianne Salerni, Krystalyn Drown, and yours truly) critique someone's first page. This month we have the first page of a YA post-disaster adventure novel, tentatively titled, OVERLAND, by Kristen Zayon, aka AKLibraryChick on twitter.

           It was a seemingly innocent thing, that first flicker. We were sitting in the Anchorage airport waiting for our flight home to Cordova when it happened. The lights trembled once, twice, then went out completely. If it hadn’t been daytime, the blackness would have been absolute. There were none of those emergency back-up lights shining in the corners, no glow from someone’s iphone. Anything electrical or computerized was just finished. We heard what sounded like a few distant explosions, then an eerie silence. We looked at each other and around at the other passengers. Everyone was stabbing fingers uselessly at their phones, laptops, the kiosk computer terminals. A murmur of voices rose, as everyone began to speculate.

             Some of the airport personnel arrived with good old-fashioned battery powered or crank operated flashlights. The intercoms weren’t working either, or the little cars they sometimes drive around, so they were busy hoofing it from gate to gate, letting everyone know as much as they did, which was not much. There appeared to be a blackout that was at the very least spread across the Anchorage Bowl and Matanuska-Susitna Valley, and was most likely statewide. Perhaps it went even further. Nobody knew because communications were gone along with everything else; even old school land lines.

            We hung out in the airport for a few more hours, until the time of our flight had come and gone. Eventually, someone announced that all flights were cancelled for the day, or until the power came back on. We left the airport to go back to the hotel we had just checked out of that morning. We had to walk, because anything with a motor was simply not running. Something major had happened, we knew. Power outages don’t affect cars. Solar flare? Nuclear bomb? We noticed smoke rising in several spots over the inlet, and remembered the explosions we had heard immediately after the outage. The planes. They had all crashed. I started feeling sick to my stomach. 
We were in Anchorage for the state cross country running meet. For the first time ever, both the boys and girls teams had qualified, so we’d taken the ferry to Whittier and made the short drive to Anchorage. There were seven guys, six girls, and two coaches for the three day trip. By the time we were supposed to return, a storm had moved in to Prince William Sound, cancelling the ferries, so we had to book flights back to Cordova. This was always a hazard in Alaska when traveling in remote areas. Then we couldn’t all get on one flight at such short notice – it’s a small plane – so eight kids and Coach Ron were on the first flight, while the rest of us waited for the next one with Coach Casey.

My thoughts: 'It was a seemingly innocent thing, that first flicker.' For some reason this phrase bothers me. Maybe it's too vague, and too obviously not innocent. How about: "I remember we were sitting in the Anchorage airport waiting for our flight home to Cordova when it happened." I do like the rest: the brief description of what's happened and then the brief back story that tells the reader how our narrator got where where he/she is. The transition between the two felt very seamless. The only other thing I might mention is the lack of characterization for our narrator. We don't have a name or a sex, only the knowledge that our narrator runs cross country. Assuming more info is coming up shortly, not knowing doesn't bother me because the set up is good enough to make me curious about what's going on and what's going to happen next. However, everyone might not feel the same, hence the mention.
Readers, what are your thoughts on this first page? Any helpful suggestions/comments? Don't forget to go see what Dianne and Krystalyn had to say about this first page and I'll be back Wednesday with another First Impression :)


  1. First off, I have to say I love this premise. Right off the bat I caught myself wondering what it would be like to be in this situation. That said, Kristen, I feel like you could do more to put the reader IN the situation. I felt like I was reading a blow-by-blow. First this happened. Then that happened. To Marcie's point, I don't know anything about the character. This is where writing with the senses is so necessary. What did the MC see, feel hear, touch, taste? You want to put your reader in the scene using detail, not vague sentences. for example, take this snippet: "There were none of those emergency back-up lights shining in the corners, no glow from someone’s iphone." Instead of telling us what was NOT there, tell us what it looked like. "In the darkness, my crimson nail polish looked black." Instead of writing the phrase "eerie silence," which doesn't tell us much, why not talk about the things the MC could hear now that the electronics were down? A collective gasp of fear from the crowd? A baby whimpering in the corner? An old man snipping at his wife to get the flashlight out of her purse? What WAS happening? What was there? Awesome premise though. Has me actually feeling a little panicked. Really good!

    1. Thanks Liza, those are excellent suggestions!

  2. I agree with Liza. I'd like to see a bit more emotion...more freaking out. It would be easier to relate to the character and really get into it.

  3. LOTS of promise here. I am sucked in already, but would agree that there is perhaps a little too much telling rather than showing...
    And my minor quibble is about 'looked at each other and around at the other passengers'. Passengers they aren't. Yet. And may never be.

    1. Good catch, and thanks for commenting :)

  4. overly simple sentences if you ask me, I'd work more on different ways of achieving sentence structure.


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