Wednesday, November 4, 2015


Our second submission for First Impressions this month comes to us from Mary Livingston. THE OLD DAYS is a short story aimed at an adult audience.


Some people claim they have a vivid recollection of themselves in their mother’s womb and claim they can tell you, in detail, the usually elusive experience of birth.  They see themselves a little ball of flesh, floating in darkness.  The volcano erupts, the walls heave violently and close tightly around them.  One solid shove and they are forced into the world of things to come.  I must confess that I have no such recollection, but I can remember my parents before they were my parents.

He used to steer her down the streets of the past when she was just a baby.  And who would have thought that he would be steering her baby one day.  Certainly not him, for he was busy.  Busy maintaining his freedom to be wild, strutting like a male peacock, knowing the attraction of his brilliant color.  Busy trying to spread two dollars on as many girls, as many drinks and as many laughs as he could.  Seven years his junior, she was busy then writing in her diary, while he had already read (Since she's writing, it seems like this word should be "written" instead of "read.") that chapter in the book.  Today, he says, “I was waiting for your mother to grow up.”  And everyone smiles and slyly glances at everyone else, knowing that those laughing blue eyes in that devilish Irish face were looking anywhere but into a baby carriage. 

I remember about a year before the “big war” was over.  His number came up.  His family said, “Thank God that no good son of a …is leaving.”  They cackled and chuckled to cover the dull ache in their guts.  For people feel sad when a while (wild?) animal is on the verge of becoming domesticated.  The battle in the streets was common to them.  But this new battle was foreign to them.  And although they had slackened the line attaching him to them years ago, they now held tightly onto their end.  They gave him a party, as people will do, on the night before he was to go.  But, true to his leprechaun nature, he didn’t go anywhere, (I'm not sure how this makes him like a leprechaun.) except to sleep with a smile on his face.  And if they all hadn’t been so hung-over, they would have killed him.  When he was out of sight, they would commiserate in humor about the boldness of his nature.  In his presence, they would mumble their disapproval, look everywhere but at him, and stifle an urge to grin.  (It sounds like he was drafted. How did he get out of that?) Today, he winks while opening a beer and says, “I had a lot of parties when I went into the army”.  She moves her eyes without moving her head to look at him, and when he looks away, she smiles and he knows she is smiling.

In those days, she was totally and wholeheartedly obsessed with the smile of the boy in the grocery store.  And the boy on the corner.  And the boy…Mind and eyes mesmerized by the silver screen, she would lick the last bit of her sundae as she ("She" here refers to the mom. Do you mean that? If so, can it be clearer?) and Astaire finished their dance.  He (Here, "he" refers to Fred Astaire since he was the last named male.) was her older brother’s friend and another piece of furniture in the mishmash that was her home.  And though they were so close, she could lean slightly to the right and touch him; in those days, she was looking past him into her own reality. 


I think there is some really beautiful imagery here - the peacock, spreading the two dollars, the parties when he didn't go into the army, etc. It shows so much about the characters without telling. You just have to be careful that it doesn't become confusing. For example, the last line in the first paragraph mentions a baby carriage. However, since both the mother and her baby are referred to as babies earlier in the paragraph, it is unclear who the baby in the last sentence is referring to. In the last paragraph, the shift from her obsession to local boys to Fred Astaire is a bit awkward. In both of those instances, it might help to cut down on some of the images and pick just a couple that really bring the point across.

I also had pronoun confusion in a couple of places. A bit of rewording can clear those up. 

I like how he was wild and she was completely uninterested and would love to see what ultimately brings them together. Keep working on it, because I think you have a wonderful talent for words. I felt completely immersed in the time.

Thank you so much for sharing your work with us!

Make sure to head over to both Mainewords and Dianne's blog to see what they thought of THE OLD DAYS.

Monday, November 2, 2015


Today's First Impressions is a bit different. BROTHER WOLF is an MG contemporary novel originally released in Portugal. The author is Carla Maria de Almeida and the illustrator is António Jorge Gonçalves. The novel is now being translated into English by Lyn Miller-Lachman. 

Lyn states, "Along with writing my own fiction, I'm a translator of children's books (and other materials) from Portuguese to English. I'm applying for a grant, due November 16th, to translate a novel for older middle grade readers by the Portuguese author and journalist Carla Maia de Almeida titled Irmão Lobo (Brother Wolf). I'm somewhat limited in how much I can change the original text, but there are ways I can tweak it to appeal to both the grant committee and tween readers, so I'm looking for suggestions."


I once believed I was madly in love with Kalkitos. But that couldn’t be, because I was eight years old at the time and Kalkitos was the same age as Fossil, my much-older brother. He could have almost been my father, and something about it didn’t seem right. Actually, a lot of things didn’t seem right.

First of all, according to Blanche, I was the one born “out of time.” I began to believe this before I could put the feeling into words. I’m fifteen now and almost ready to start my own life, but I still don’t understand all the things that happened to me.

When I was eight years old, time was the microwave oven’s red numbers, always changing and blinking in the dark kitchen.

Time was Blanche running around like a crazed chicken, beginning at daybreak when she woke me and helped me get ready for school. She would glance at her cellphone and say, We don’t have time right now. We don’t have time. She’d keep running throughout breakfast, leaving crumbs of toast all over the floor like Hansel and Gretel. The crumbs never led us to a house of chocolate, and the next day they were sucked up by the vacuum cleaner.

Cold, rain, sunshine—those were the seasons of time. Jackets, boots, hats, gloves, scarves, sandals, t-shirts, shorts—all ways of dressing for the seasons. I understood. It was easy to figure out.

The same way, when Grizzly Bear sat on the sofa in front of the television and said between clenched teeth, “We are living in ungovernable times,” I knew whether this was good or bad by the way he changed the channel. Bored, zap. Annoyed, zap, zap. Enraged or worse, zap, zap, zap.

Now, I know. I wasn’t born out of time. I simply didn’t understand.

Because in the end, I went to school like the other kids, I wore sandals in summer and a hat when it turned bitter cold. I had a home, like all the kids. In this home lived Blanche, Grizzly Bear, Fossil, and Miss Kitty—my family. My parents and my older brother and sister. It wasn’t possible that they all lived in time and I lived outside of time.
But there were things that didn’t seem right.


First off, I love the way time is described. From the seasons to the crumbs, the descriptions are stunning.

I'm not exactly sure what Lyn is able to change here, but these are the things that jump out at me.

- Fossil, I'd like to see a definite age instead of "much-older."
- The line, "I'm fifteen now ..." seems out of place. If it can be cut, the line before it, "I began to believe this ..." is a much better lead in to the discussion about time. Her age can be inserted later into the line, "Now, I know."
- "I simply didn't understand." What didn't she understand?

Other than that, I feel like it's pretty well polished. If I picked up this book, I would keep reading simply because of the lyrical writing. 

Thank you, Lyn, for bringing this challenge to us this month. You can visit Lyn's website at And here's a piece on Irmão Lobo:

Make sure to head over to both Mainewords and Dianne's blog to see their thoughts on BROTHER WOLF.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015


Our third submission for First Impressions this month comes to us from Mason Matchak. THE BOOK OF LOST RUNES is adult fantasy.


The last man Shiloh ever wanted to see again stepped onto her airship.

Shiloh looked him over, wondered just how much ten years had changed him, and hoped she wouldn’t have to deal with him for long enough to find out.  “Lord Figaro,” she said, “welcome aboard, and thank you for choosing a Caldwell Company flight.”  The greeting was a habit, and helped Shiloh keep bitterness out of her voice.  She resisted the urge to check her schedule to make absolutely sure he was on it.

“Lord Edwin is fine,” he said, smiling at her, his teeth bright against his dark brown skin.  “Lord Figaro is my older brother.”

Of course, Shiloh recalled.  Edwin was the second son of the Brinmaar branch of House Figaro, and his elder brother must have taken over the merchant house’s business sometime in the past decade.  When last they met, Edwin wasn’t ‘Lord’ of anything.

“As you wish, Lord Edwin,” Shiloh said, forcing her voice into the practiced politeness she reserved for enduring difficult customers.  She did check her schedule then, tapping a few carved glass buttons on the runewoven bracer she wore on her left forearm.  The bracer was emblazoned with Caldwell Company’s red and gold logo, which clashed with the pale blue dress Shiloh wore, but there was little she could do about that.  After a moment, a few gleaming words appeared in the bracer’s largest crystal, confirming that Lord Figaro had indeed made a reservation for the evening.  There was no destination listed.

That wasn’t common, but Shiloh had dealt with wealthy folks who liked to think they were traveling incognito before.  She tucked a strand of her bangs back behind one ear; most of her wavy blonde hair was tied back in a simple ponytail that reached her waist, but she wore her bangs loose.  “Where do you wish to travel today, Lord?”

Lord Edwin glanced around the small airship as though it was his own.  He stood a bit over six feet tall, only a little taller than Shiloh herself, and wore a dark blue suit with beige trim, in what Shiloh figured must be the height of local fashion if he was wearing it.  His hair was tightly curled and trimmed close to his head, and she guessed he wore the neat mustache and goatee because he thought it made him look dashing, the same reason he wore a short, curved blade at one hip.

Sons of merchant families all seemed to have some of the same traits, no matter where they came from or how powerful their families were.  Or weren’t.  Shiloh frowned at another old memory, then waited by the airship’s wheel for Edwin’s reply.


Great start! I love the character descriptions. You've shown a lot of their personalities through their clothing and hair styles. There are just a couple of things that I think will bring tension to the story and help pull the reader in even more.

You did a wonderful job of showing that Shiloh doesn't like Edwin (the way she checks to see if he's really supposed to be there, the way she has to force her voice). However, I'd like a hint of why she doesn't like him. Were they a couple? Was it business? Giving that hint will add another layer to the tension.

If Edwin wasn't Lord of anything the last time they met, why did she address him as such? If she doesn't address him as Lord, and then he insists, then that adds extra impact to the sentences that follow.

Is Edwin the only passenger? Are Shiloh and Edwin the only people on the ship? If so, mention it. That will add more tension as well.

In all, you have a very interesting beginning. You've put a lot of questions in my mind (Where is he going? What happened in the past? Did he know it was her ship?) that would keep me reading. Thank you so much for sharing your work with us!

Make sure to head over to both Mainewords and Dianne's blog to see what they thought of THE BOOK OF LOST RUNES.

Monday, October 5, 2015


Our second submission for First Impressions this month comes to us from Nathan Koronkiewicz. A LUMINOUS APPARITION'S RESOLVE is a YA Fantasy.


Life had begun in an instant, had changed over time and it was bound to change once more. This change would send shockwaves throughout the universe shattering everything and rewriting the path of history, as we knew it. Not one species would be safe from the wrath to come. From the midst of Garrett’s good intentions was the birth of a force of pure evil.

“A Hero, a mystical person, someone who sets the criteria of what is righteous. Each culture, each world, we all have someone who has once reached this title. Yet, why is it that my race has no one to call a hero of their own?” Looking out across my blank canvas, the pathways were as sleek as ever, the reflection of the stars below glimmering. My eyes drifted downwards, and I looked upon a lone planet in the emptiness of space.

 Taking my brush, I had painted the scene, which had unraveled before me.

 Sword and shield in hand, the man stood next to a flag of his people. His face filled with anguish and gratitude as he looked out across the battlefield. None of his comrades had remained, but in the distance, a flag of an empire was burning.

“A sole survivor, huh? He managed to accomplish his goal, but what was his price? Was it worth the blood spilt from the war to achieve freedom? I suppose it was for his people that he set out for victory.”

My feelings were mixed on the matter; I was intrigued by the concept known as heroes. How could it be that something known as ‘heroes’ existed in almost every world? But, each of these heroes differed from one another, their morals, their personalities and what they set out to accomplish. Is there some sort of connection between all heroes? Are they somehow drawn towards this concept? I don’t quite understand it, but if I could, I’d strive for it as well.

 I grasped my painting and took one last look at it. It was the birth of a hero in action, a marvelous scene, which depicted only one kind, the hero of war. I had come across many types of heroes in my time, but I had never witnessed a war hero. If I had to guess, it was a near perfect depiction to add to my collection.


To me, this scene seems to be about the concept of a hero and the MC's depiction of one in a painting. I loved the MC's thoughts, how there can be different types of heroes and what drives each of them. He/she seems to be a collector of heroes, which I find really interesting.

Here are a few suggestions on how you can make the opening clearer.

- The first paragraph doesn't seem to tie in with the rest of the scene. Go straight to heroes and the painting.

- Where is the MC? He/she seems to be in a spaceship, looking down on a devastated planet - "My eyes drifted downwards, and I looked upon a lone planet in the emptiness of space." Bring in some more details to ground the reader in the setting. 

- "Taking my brush, I painted the scene ..." Take out the "had." 

- I'm a little confused about the quotes. Is the MC speaking to someone or just saying the thoughts out loud? If the MC is not speaking out loud, then take away the quotation marks.

This is a good beginning, and I see some really interesting concepts in there. Thank you so much for sharing your work with us! 

Make sure to head over to both Mainewords and Dianne's blog to see what they thought of A LUMINOUS APPARITION'S RESOLVE.

Friday, October 2, 2015


Our first submission for First Impressions this month comes to us from Angelo Michaels. CURSE CURSE is an upper MG Magical Realism novel.


 I knew the imposter wasn’t my sister.  Genuine or not, her appearance, her mere presence suggested that my sister might’ve still been alive.  There was no explanation in the discovery, no means to an end.  My sister was still missing even though the doppelganger was recovered.    

There were small tells, like Siena pulling on the wrong side of her razor straight black hair or tapping her left foot, instead of right, when annoyed.  I could see right through her because she didn’t have her defensive shield in place—her innate, inanimate ability to control her environment with her commanding personality.  Always the boss since she followed me out of our mother twenty-two minutes after I arrived in the world.  

Siena was always playing catch up.  Picking up on skills like walking, talking and writing, slightly before me—pushing her way to the front, barreling me over in the process.  It was easy for her because I was the timid, shy introvert.  She spoke for both of us, made the decisions and I just followed along. 

Surviving in her wake, but never thriving in her shadow.

Even now, entering adulthood at 18, the sea of time between then and now seems to have been absorbed like a sponge.  Those critical years of discovery, both of body and principle, meld together until they become one journey, one thought. 

All these years later the pain of losing Siena is still as fresh, the fear still as raw as the night she went missing. 

The night of our 13th birthday I was scared, petrified at the thought of never seeing Siena again.  Dragging around my half self for the rest of my days, the other half vanished, stolen in the night.  If she was dead than I didn’t want to live.  The world would cease to exist without her in it, but the globe continued to spin in the void so she must’ve been alive, somewhere out there.

I thought my mother, Genieve Grace, being a psychic, would’ve sensed Siena had been replaced when she returned.  Astrologist is her professional title.  Genieve gives Reading, lays tarot cards and plots star charts.  Her ability stems from a heightened intuition bordering on premonition.  She calls it the Wave because it rolls over her, compressing her thoughts until one trumps the others.

That’s why when Siena went missing I thought Genieve would’ve been more helpful.  More insightful in locating her and more cognizant, upon Siena’s return, that she wasn’t my sister. 

I knew it, and not just because she was my twin, but because we’re Witches. 


This is a great start. I love some of the details, like how Sienna is the leader, even though she's younger, and why the mother should have sensed the switch, but didn't. There are a few things, however, that I feel will tighten the beginning and bring forward the most important parts.

Since this is MG, you might want to cut the part about being 18. Telling a story from that far in the future can bring the story into young adult or even adult territory. The story happens when they're 13. Keep it there. 

I would cut or reword the line about Siena always playing catch up. It's more like the narrator is playing catch up, even though she's older.

The opening line feels strange to me, and I'm trying to pinpoint why. I think it's because Siena is actually the main focus of the chapter, so I feel like Siena should be the main focus of the opening line. More like, "My sister was replaced by an imposter," although I'm sure you can come up with something better than that.

Thank you so much for sharing your chapter with us! I love the idea, and I think you have a good grasp of how to show interesting details.

Make sure to check out Angelo's website at WWW.AM-AUTHOR.COMAnd head over to both Mainewords and Dianne's blog to see what they thought of CURSE CURSE.

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.