Monday, August 3, 2015


Our first submission for First Impressions this month comes to us from Maria Ann Witt. GOODNIGHT SWEET PRINCE is a YA contemporary novel. It is a re-imagining of Hamlet.


Five hours into the ten hour flight from Copenhagen to Detroit most of the first class passengers were asleep. Harm tried. Seat reclined, headphones on, eyes closed, music playing, pushing ‘next’ repeatedly before accepting that next was never any better. He switched over to replay the voice mail message from three days ago.

Harm, they’re talking about a new contract. Whatever you do, don’t sign anything without talking to me first. And don’t let Mars sign anything either. Call me when you get a chance.

Listening to Dad’s voice, he could picture him—gray hair, thick-rimmed glasses, and kind, serious expression. He hadn’t called back. Between late night shows, and later night parties, and sleeping it off, there hadn’t been time.

Christmas. That was the last time he’d talked to Dad in person. Lied to him. How was everything going, was he getting enough sleep? Sure, Harm said.

“Touring is tough, I’m proud of you.”

Dad had toured a year before quitting his band and becoming a wildly successful songwriter. He clapped a firm hand on Harm’s shoulder. “Good grades, last report. That’s important. Gotta think long term.”

The tutor must have taken the tests. All Harm did was scribble his own handwriting on the papers and get a recap of what he’d learned. The formalities of being a minor in show business. Dad knew a lot about the business, but he didn’t seem to know that.

The last time he’d seen his dad and he’d lied. It hadn’t bothered him then, but now, it felt like someone was strangling him. He gasped and sat up, arms flailing defensively.

“You okay?” Mars asked. Next to him, his younger brother’s seat was upright, his skinny arms and shoulders tense under his tight black leather jacket, as he turned his phone over and over in his hands.

“Can’t sleep.” Harm said, shoving his headphones off. He thought about the Ativan in his pocket. He was trying not use them. Didn’t trust Mom and her doctors. So easy to get hooked on stuff.

Mars nodded, and turned toward the window, even though the plastic shade was closed. His phone vibrated with a loud hum, and he jumped and almost dropped it.

“The funeral’s Monday,” he said, checking the message.

“Huh,” Harm said. “Guess Paolo canceled Oslo for nothing.”

“We couldn’t have done anything. . . ”

“He didn’t know that!” Harm’s voice came out harsh in the steady hum of the plane, and he dropped it back to a half-whisper. “All he knows is the show must go on. Dad was in the hospital and we were out there shuffling. We should have been on this plane yesterday.”


absolutely love this idea and at first read-through, I had trouble coming up with notes for it. As is, it's mostly picky things.

The main thing is, I feel like it's slightly out of order. I want to know his dad is gone sooner. Somewhere between "Listening to Dad's voice ..." and "Christmas."

"He hadn't called back." I had a bit of pronoun confusion there. Better to say his name. 

When he said dad became a wildly successful songwriter, does he mean he's Harm's songwriter?

I love that he lied the last time he saw his dad. It's a great bit of character detail.

I was also confused by the last three paragraphs. Maybe reading further would have clarified, but here are my thoughts. 
- Oslo was canceled. That sounds to me like they had time to get to see their dad. It seems like not canceling a show would elicit the comment, "We couldn't have done anything ..." Not the other way around.
- "He didn't know that." Who's he? Paolo or dad? 
- I'm also not sure what "out there shuffling" means. Screwing around? Performing?

In short, great job! I want to read this, Maria!

Make sure to check out Maria's website at And head over to both Mainewords and Dianne's blog to see what they thought of GOODNIGHT SWEET PRINCE.

Monday, July 6, 2015


Our second submission for First Impressions this month comes to us from Stacie Dempsey. DREAMKATCHER is a YA novel.


Chapter One

I woke with a jolt of familiarity. There was a memory digging footholds into my brain trying to resurface. The imagined stench of a charred experiment gone wrong lingering in my nose. Behind my still closed eyes I can see the outline of the old brick laboratory, black against the waking sky, flames escaping through its windows and matching the sky’s intensity. My heart pounds as I try to make my way back in. Heat sears my cheeks just as tears come flooding down to cool them. Their trapped cries resonate in my ears as a lone thought repeats in my head… I have to save them.

This dream clings to my consciousness, hanging like a low fog. A fog that a thousand suns couldn’t lift. There’s only one way to rid these terrible thoughts from my mind, something I should have done last night. I reach for the BAND on my wrist, knowing what I will find before I see it there. Blank screen, battery dead.

As I stumble across the room, limbs still heavy with sleep, my body begins convulsing with sobs. Overwhelming pain takes over and threatens to pull me back into the abyss of depression. It’s as if each sob slices into my soul, fracturing it until I’m spread thin enough to be carried away by the morning breeze. Wrapping my arms around myself I attempt to pull the pieces of me back together long enough to reach the port.

Racing the last five feet to the wall, I hold my wrist against the port ready to evict the nightmare from my mind. The glass panel glows red, confirming it’s dead battery and my failure to sync. As the BAND charges the panel slowly changes from red to yellow and finally green. The sync begins and I can feel my thoughts flowing out of me like a stream. It’s as if a dam has been released and is washing away these painful memories that infest my sleep.

Four years later and still the same nightmare plagues my thoughts. The same feeling that I should have done more, I should have tried harder to get them out. The same feeling of guilt for having survived. 

This latest episode marks the second time this month I’ve forgotten to keep my BAND charged. Gram will be furious when she finds out. “Our BAND’s are meant to relieve the burden the day’s thoughts have on our soul. Without a proper sync each night we won’t be able to make it through the day”. It won’t be the first time I’ve received this lecture. Taking one last deep breath, I pull myself together and head downstairs to face Gram.


First, I find the BANDs absolutely fascinating. Those devices feel not far removed from our phones and other idevices. How many people "plug in" to the internet as the last thing they do before bed and the first thing they do before they get up? That said, there is a stigma about starting a novel with waking up from a dream. It's disorienting because the reader is trying to get a feel for the character and his or her reality. Dreams distort that reality, so the reader isn't getting a true picture at the start. Is there a different way to begin that tells us more about the BANDs?

Second, I have a couple of picky notes regarding tense and wording. The first two sentences are past tense, while the rest is in present tense. 

Also, "Racing the last five feet to the wall," is in contrast with the other physical descriptions of her since she seems incapable of running in the previous paragraph. 

Last, I love this line, "It’s as if each sob slices into my soul, fracturing it until I’m spread thin enough to be carried away by the morning breeze."

I think this a wonderful idea, and I'd love to read more of it. Thank you so much for sharing it with us. 

Make sure to check out Stacie's website at She is also on Facebook at And head over to both Mainewords and Dianne's blog to see what they thought of DREAMKATCHER.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015


Our first submission for First Impressions this month comes to us from Mark Murata. TEMPLE BEYOND THE SEA is New Adult historical fantasy.


To be a priestess, the walk had to be flawless—the smooth heel-to-toe motion beneath the woolen robe that would soon be spattered with blood. Iphi had practiced this walk for two years, knew it was perfect, knew the ceremonial dagger at her waist was not bouncing from the motion. Sheathed at my navel, the center of life. Her slippered feet continued their smooth whisper on the stone floor of the temple, taking her through the darkness to the sunlight that shone through the linteled doorway, where the victims waited outside.

At the doorway itself she paused, heavy stonework on either side, the scents of life and fresh air greeting her. She had no need to blink—though the veil that hung in front of her eyes was thin and gauze-like, its deep-set purple shielded those same eyes from the sudden change in lighting. Iphi made the pause purposeful, foreboding. The whiteness of her face would sharply contrast against the darkness of her eyes, dimly glimpsed through the veil. Arms outstretched, she stood ready to receive the sacrifices lying on the altar. Any supplicant standing directly in front of her would have seen her framed by darkness. And further on, in the interior of the temple, hints of the image of Artemis herself showed—a pale statue in the same posture, lit by hungry flames.

The pause also gave Iphi time to contemplate this, the last phase of her training. She would ascend to the priesthood by performing human sacrifice. The dagger rested easily against her waist.

Her lips parted. There was no need for a last glance at any polished bronze mirror. The red on her lips was perfect, the same as the whiteness of her face. She stiffened her belly for the pronouncement, her voice deep and confident.


The goddess will have her sacrifice
Virgin am I, who serve her
All you who stand here, adore


Silence greeted the words. If any worshipers had been present, they would be murmuring in awe and fear. As it was, only two guards from the palace stood in the place for worshipers—no one else occupied the temple grounds, bordered by sharp cliffs that dropped off on either side to the sea below. Beyond a heath a few young women watched in rapt fascination, hoping the distance would keep them from being rousted out by the spear butts of the guards. 


First off, I thought this was an amazing beginning. The image of a blood splatted robe, the knife, and the sacrifices all promise an exciting beginning. As such, I don't have many suggestions for plot and character, but I do have a few notes.

This is written in third person. However, a few of the phrases place the action firmly inside Iphi's head. For example, "The whiteness of her face would sharply contrast" can easily be replaced with "sharply contrasted." This takes it out of her head and makes it active instead of passive.

I'm also unsure of why her speech is formatted the way it is instead of with quotes. Of course, it could simply have gotten formatted strangely through email, but if not, it's something to consider. As it's shown above, it looks more like a thought or even a different scene.

The last paragraph takes me out of the story a bit. At this point, I don't feel it's important to state what would happen if other people were there. I want to know instead about the people that are there. Perhaps it's listed later, but I'd like to know how the sacrifices are reacting. They are the other characters listed in the beginning of this scene.

Thanks so much for sharing with us, Mark. Based on this beginning, I would definitely keep reading!

Make sure to check out Mark's website at head over to both Mainewords and Dianne's blog to see what they thought of TEMPLE BEYOND THE SEA.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Pink Snow

Small Child has written and illustrated his very first book. It is a spellbinding meditation on weather and how it affects us all.
The Pink Snow by Small Child

It was a sunny day.

It was spring and there was a house. 

Then pink snow fell.

Then it was morning.

It was very sunny.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015


Our second submission for First Impressions this month comes to us from Shannon Cortazar. SILHOUETTE is a YA fantasy.


We were invaded the day we buried my brother. It was autumn, crisp and bright. “A good day for a burial” I heard someone say behind me. A tragic death, such a shame, the voices went on and on. Clucking their tongues as if rationalizing his death would make it okay. The coffin bore the mark of the Throne, a twisting tree within a circle and a three pointed crown above. That same mark was branded on his wrist when I took a peek at him lying still on white satin.

They’d sent a note thanking us for our cooperation in these “changing times”. It was signed by Elin Grayl, the new leader of our Nation. 

The coffin was a token of their gratitude, to ease our financial burden, they said. I thought it was ironic, since they’re the ones who killed him. 

A few hours later chaos broke out. From my bedroom I saw a quick purposeful momentum come from each of the hundred or so legion. They were herding everyone they could find. Before I knew it I was sitting between my parents tearing through town in my dad’s pickup truck, heading for the mountains flanking our crumbling community. And it’s here I sit, waiting for the next onslaught. 

I’ve learned that counting calms me before a kill. One, focus on my target. Two, steady my breath. Three, account for the wind. 

Four, don’t hesitate. Aim between the eyes. 

I don’t worry about the snap of the bow, just the direction which the arrow will soar. If it were an animal, I’d quiet my release. But the human boy daring to enter our village is too dumb or too careless for me to bother. He’s just another threat, I tell myself. One I won’t think twice about killing. 

I wait, watch him. He isn’t moving like someone who’s controlled. From this distance, at least a hundred yards, I can’t see the Thrones mark on his wrist. 

But they’re clever, so I wait. 

To my left I can see a lone magpie land on the thin branch of a birch tree. One for sorrow, I think it goes, the rhyme I learned years ago. It’s appropriate; since we live in a suffocating state of sadness. Tufts of snow fall to the frozen ground below him as he sits perched with his eyes darting around. Until they land on me. I refocus and clear my mind, ease the tremors in my arm.

“You have to kill him Noelle.” A voice behind me whispers.


While her brother's funeral is a good opening image, I feel like you have an even more powerful opening further down - I’ve learned that counting calms me before a kill. Wow. You learn so much about her character in that line. Give us that first. Wait until later to tell us about her brother and how she got to the mountains.

The description of the boy, or rather what he didn't look like, drew me in. I know she has doubts by the way she counts. His lack of a mark and the way he moves give her more doubts. I love how you show that.

I also love the magpie and how she uses it to convey how everyone is feeling. I would like to see why his stare make her refocus though. She is stalling when she is looking at him. What is it about his eyes that puts her back on task?

Then, the last line. Wonderful. I want to know who's saying this. I want to know the rules. I want to know more.

In all, it's a great opening. Thanks so much for sharing, Shannon!

Make sure to check out Shannon's website at She is also on Twitter under @SLCortazar. And head over to both Mainewords and Dianne's blog to see what they thought of SILHOUETTE.

Monday, June 1, 2015


Our first submission for First Impressions this month comes to us from Valerie Hobbs. WILD GINGER is a contemporary MG novel.


There were times living with her parents when Elizabeth “Lizzie” Lessing has had to be the grownup, or at least feels as if she does. Like right now on the Big Island of Hawaii as their tiny rental car passes a sign on the side of the road. “Hey, you guys,” she says. “We’re driving into a volcano. Did you see that sign?”

Her mother laughs. “Not into it, honey. Not exactly. Nothing to worry about.”

Lizzie thought about the day her sixth grade teacher, Mr. Sylvester, did his amazing volcano imitation. “Kaboom” he cried, leaping into the air, sending them all into shrieks and fits of laughter. “Is it active?”

Lizzie’s father, too big for their rented car, hulks over the steering wheel. “Kilauea is an active volcano all right,” he says. “If we’re lucky we’ll get to see some lava.”

Her parents are crazy. Always chasing after some new “folly,” Lizzie’s grandmother says. But nothing seems to work. Lessing Cake and Coffee had attracted only flies. Lessing Laundry went belly up when a fancier one opened on the next block. There were penny stocks and bubble gum machines, a dog washing service and Mack Of All Trades home repairs. Her father finally took a job as a manager at Burger King but lost it in a week.

And now there is this new thing her mother had spotted on a real estate flyer. “Old plantation house surrounded by  lush vegetation, perfect for a bed and breakfast”. The flyer had no picture.


I love the set up of this - the failed businesses, her crazy parents. That information, along with the flyer with no picture, brings to mind an image of a ramshackle house better than any description ever could.

I do have a couple of suggestions though. While the page as a whole is delightful, I'm wondering if you could pack more punch into the opening line. Right now, it's passive and a little bit clunky. Instead of saying she feels like the grownup, I'd love to see how it makes her feel.

I also feel like the flashback to her sixth grade class isn't necessary here. I'd like to stay in the car and get to know Lizzie and her parents a bit more. The image of her father and how he doesn't fit in the car is perfect.

In all, this book definitely sounds like something I would pick up off the shelf and read. Thanks for sharing, Valerie!

Make sure to check out Valerie's website at And head over to both Mainewords and Dianne's blog to see what they thought of WILD GINGER.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Writing and Re-Writing

Memorial Day. No school. No work. So naturally, a sinus infection decided to grace me with its presence. With the family at Universal, I decided to use my free day to get some writing done. I wrote all of one page and thought, Well, this sucks. Every single word was boring. Tedious.

I gave up on writing for the afternoon. Maybe I just needed to rest. But then I came across this while scrolling through Twitter.

I've read it before. It made sense then. It made even more sense today. Readers don't need a list of what's happening. They need to feel what's happening. With that in mind, I went back to my manuscript. My MC, Ellie, is flying through space on her way to a distant moon.

This -

She didn't care much for the stars anyway. There was too much blackness out there. The pinpoints of light made it worse.

Became this -

Ellie's skin itched every time she looked at the stars. The sharp pinpricks of light stretched through the blackness, ready to scratch those daring enough to gaze upon them. 

And as much as she hated the stars, she longed for the trees that would soon come into view. The words needed to illustrate her relief. So this -

Ginormous trees raced beneath them, a forest fifteen stories tall and strong enough to support an entire city in its branches. 

Became this -

Just when Ellie couldn't stand it any longer, the shuttle broke through the moon's atmosphere and the trees came into view. Roofs, walkways, and pipes jutted from the treetops, where the city lay nestled fifteen stories in the air. The emerald leaves were the size of blankets, and Ellie wanted to wrap herself in one. She smiled because she knew it was possible.

It's not perfect yet. It's only a rough draft after all. But if I can remember to delve more into the feeling of the scene, I'll know I'm moving in the right direction.