Monday, August 1, 2016


Our first submission for First Impressions this month comes to us from Melissa Guthrie. OHIO, 1863 is Young Adult Historical Fiction.


Hewitt Town, Ohio
July 4th, 1863

Henry Clemmons opened his eyes just as acid bubbled up from his stomach. He bolted upright, grabbed a pail from beside the bed, and retched into it. The room spun. Henry sprawled back into the mattress. He rolled into a ball and moaned.

“Ah,” a voice said. Calm. Gentle. “You’re awake.”

On the other side of a doorway stood Lincoln Hewitt. Link, as Henry knew him, was bent over a long board made of poplar wood, dressed in the same dark pants Henry saw him in the night before. His feet were bare, stained black. His dark hair, the color of ink, was brown with sawdust. A cigarette burned between the first fingers of his right hand, the scent of tobacco heavy in the air.

“Did you sleep at all?” Henry asked. He climbed from the bed and looked down, his nakedness a stark reminder of the night before, gin in his mind and clothing lost piece by piece. He found his drawers tossed over a trunk at the end of the bed and pulled them on. He looked back to find Link watching him, a small smile on his lips which he moistened with the tip of his tongue.

Link’s eyes were his most notable feature. Never before had Henry met a person, male or female, with eyes like his. Link eyes were the color of sky after a snowstorm, cold and gray. An ash fell from the cigarette and landed dangerously close to his toes. Fire burned in Link’s eyes, sometimes bright as dawn and sometimes smoldering like embers, always burning.

“The Welk baby died last night,” Link straightened and took a drink from the tin mug that seemed permanently affixed to the middle finger of his right hand. Dark circles ringed his eyes. His shoulders were loose and slouching. He wiped sweat from his brow with the back of his arm and looked around the shop as if he were surprised to see slants of daylight coloring the workshop’s dark corners. “Pull yourself together and eat something for breakfast. The Widow up the way brought biscuits and I found some berries.”

Henry cleared his throat and attempted to moisten the inside of his mouth, as if just the thought of the widow’s dry, crumbling biscuits, produced in mass quantities, was enough to make swallowing a chore. Link brought the old woman meat and provisions from town and she repaid his efforts with biscuits best suited as doorstops. “There’s goats milk as well, if you are so inclined. Should you add the milk to the biscuit, perhaps it will be more palatable.”

“You really want me to eat, don’t you?” Henry asked.

“Can’t have you wasting away.”

“What’s the catch?”


I think you have some great details in here - the permanently attached mug, the biscuits suited as doorstops, etc. I'd like to see those details blended into the scene to show a clearer picture of what's going on.

Link is bent over a piece of poplar wood. He has sawdust in his hair and stained feet. I'm not sure why though. What is he doing with the wood? Is he busying himself to avoid looking at Henry or something else?

Henry got drunk and lost his clothes the night before. How? Did he and Link spend the night together or was it something else? Based on the way he describes Link, I think it's the first, but I'm not sure.

Henry wakes up in a bed. Is it his bed or Link's? Or someone else's? Is it a nice house in the city or a wooden cabin in a rural area?

You have a great start here. I think if you use your details to focus in on the action, everything will become much clearer. 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 OHIO, 1863. You can find Melissa on Twitter as @MelissWritesNow.

Monday, July 18, 2016

SMASH & GRAB by Amy Christine Parker

In honor of the release of Amy Christine Parker's smashing new novel SMASH & GRAB, I have been tasked with creating my own crew if I were to pull of a heist. So here goes.

If I were to pull off a heist, my crew would consist of:

Amy Christine Parker - I would need her to plot/plan the heist, because obviously, she has already done it.
My husband - He would be in charge of setting up and running all of the tech needed, because I would never plan a heist unless it was ultra high tech.
My mom - She would be my getaway driver, because she is a much better driver than I am. Seriously, I drive like an 87 year old grandma.

In case you're interested in planning your own heist, you may wish to read her book and pick up a few pointers.

LEXI is a rich girl who loves a good rush. Whether it’s motorcycle racing or BASE jumping off a building in downtown Los Angeles, the only times she feels alive are when she and her friends are executing one of their dares. After her father’s arrest, Lexi doesn’t think twice about going undercover at his bank to steal the evidence that might clear his name. She enlists her hacker brother and her daredevil friends to plan a clever heist.
CHRISTIAN is a boy from the wrong side of the tracks. The local gang has blackmailed him and his friends into robbing banks, and he is desperate for a way out. When the boss promises that one really big job will be the last he ever has to do, Christian jumps at the chance for freedom. In fact, he’s just met a girl at the bank who might even prove useful. . . .
Two heists. One score. The only thing standing in their way is each other.

Here's the link for Amazon.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016


Our second submission for First Impressions this month comes to us from Christy Hintz. EVERGREEN is YA Contemporary.


Everything looks perfect.  Strings of red lights drape across the ceiling and dangle from the center of the gymnasium, cloaking all the dancers in crimson.

Everything sounds perfect.  The music is upbeat, the bass a perfect volume, not that crass loud overbearing beat that makes everyone's ears bleed and heart hurt.  Not like last week's prom at East High--which naturally I crashed to be sure I didn't overlook any details.  Nope, my prom is nothing like that.  Everyone is laughing and having a good time.  I circulate, smiling at my classmates, nodding at their dress and accessory choices.  The food table is topped off. The chaperons are keeping their distance.

I approach a girl standing at the foot of the bleachers. I tap her bare, brown shoulder.  "Where have you been?"

She's wearing a strapless, short black dress, one electric blue heel and one emerald green heel.  Her nails are each painted a different color of the rainbow, and today her eyes are a natural brown.  A thick strand of her black hair matches the electric blue shoe.

"Bathroom."  She turns toward me.  "I sat on the seat and everything."

"Ew."  I fumble through my purse.

"What are you looking for?"

"Sanitizer." I hand her a bottle.

She doesn't take it, but asks, "And what, pray tell, shall I do with it?"

I steer her toward the hall.  "Spread it on the back of your thighs."

She ducks out from under my hands and moves back toward the dance floor,
laughing.  "You really are crazy.  Remind me again why I love you."

"Why wouldn't you?"  I put the sanitizer under her nose for one last try.

She shakes her head and I return it to my purse with a huff.

"I promise to wear sweats to sleep in later.  My germ-covered legs won't touch anything in your house."

"What about our toilet seats?" I watch as a girl in a mermaid dress takes the last water bottle from the refreshment table.

"Man.  I'll shower when I get there. Okay?"

"Fine." I gesture to the transformed gymnasium. "It's all fantastic, right?"


Ms. Fulton, the only teacher not charmed by my straight A+ average and over-abundance of extra-curriculars is glaring at me from ten feet away like something's gone amok.  All the other teachers patted my back and congratulated me on successfully orchestrating the prom-week festivities, parade, and dance.  Not her.


I love the contrast between the two characters. I love how you show the narrator is extremely OCD as opposed to telling us. Her friend's description gives us great insight into her personality as well. 

There are just a few things I think will improve the page. 

The food table is topped off, but a few lines later, someone takes the last water bottle. Besides the water disappearing too quickly, I don't think the narrator would ignore that and keep talking to her friend. She'd fix it or delegate someone to fix it straight away.

"I approach a girl ..." Can you say her name? It's first person, and judging by their exchange, they're best friends. She wouldn't think of her friend as "a girl."

I'd also like to see a transition between their conversation and Ms. Fulton, even if it's just her friend gesturing toward the teacher or looking in her direction.

I'm not sure what the novel is about, but I think that's okay. You've set up the characters well, and I think it will be fun when the narrator's perfect world is knocked askew. Thank you so much for sharing your page with us. Good work!

Make sure to head over to both Mainewords and Dianne's blog to see what they thought of EVERGREEN. You can find Christy on Twitter as @ericaandchristy and visit her blog at

Monday, May 2, 2016


Our first submission for First Impressions this month comes to us from Kristen Zayon. OVERLAND is a Young Adult Post-Disaster Adventure.


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. 


I like this premise. It's eerie, and I really want to know what disabled everything. I think if you add more specifics, you can make it even more foreboding.

- Do a search for the word "was" and take it out whenever you can. That will take away some of the passive feeling of the piece. 

- Tell us what is, not what isn't. ie "none of those emergency back-up lights ..." With this statement, I can't tell if the lights are in the corners, but not working, or are just not there. Tell us what's there. 

- "I started feeling sick to my stomach." Can you make this more specific? Tell us what it feels like.

- Show more details so we can really be immersed in the setting. When you talk about the cars they drive in the airport, can you show what happened when one stopped? Did the driver fiddle with some switches? Did he get out and kick it? Anything with a motor was not running. Are the streets filled with abandoned cars? What are the people doing? Are they panicked or are they quiet?

- I don't think we need all of the details of the track meet yet. Take us from the narrator feeling sick to their friends on the crashed planes. Name someone, and make the narrator feel the loss of that person.

I found myself really engaged in your first page, and I wish you lots of luck! 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 OVERLAND. You can find Kristen on Twitter as @AKLibraryChick

Monday, January 4, 2016


Our first submission for First Impressions this month comes to us from Christian Bensing. SWIFT is a Middle Grade Fantasy.


Chapter 1:  3pm

Bobby Conrad used every last ounce of his brain power in an attempt to somehow stop the marathoning minute hand of Mrs. Winkey's clock from reaching its destination, but its will was unstoppable, silently cheered on by the eager eyes of his classmates.  Three o'clock, the end of the school day, had come despite Bobby's best efforts to forestall the dreaded moment when he would have to leave the safety of the classroom and enter the unsupervised, terrifying world seventh graders of his minimal stature and reputation had to face on a daily basis.  If only Mrs. Winkey's algebra test, which looked to Bobby as if it were written in Egyptian hieroglyphics, had not racked his brain to the point of delirium, maybe he could have stopped that clock through sheer concentration and enjoyed the serenity of 2:59 for a few more precious seconds.  Instead, the minute hand ticked forward with one more click.  The bell rang, and his classmates scattered.  Bobby faced the fact that he had to go home, his own virtual prison.  The only thing worse was getting there.
Bobby slowly shuffled through the classroom door to the bustling hallway.  He took one last look at Mrs. Winkey, who seemed to take great pleasure in dishing out deliberately dramatic red slashes  across the test she held in her hands.  Her eyes went from the test to Bobby, then back to the test and back to Bobby again.  It was as if she had to restrain the corners of her crooked mouth from forming a smirk.  Winkey's eyes continued this dance as her head swayed sideways, back and forth in disapproval.  Bobby knew deep in his heart she was grading his test.  He impulsively looked at his feet as metal locker doors crashed closed behind him.
“Crap,” was all he could say in a hushed tone as he found a break in the hallway traffic and exited the room with the cartoon-like vision of a sneering Mrs. Winkey engrained in his brain.
Bobby navigated his way to his locker and waited for the hallway to clear before he dared open it. He slowly gathered his books and stuffed them into his backpack.  The backpack had seen better days and already had more stitches in it than Frankenstein's monster after a car accident.  A new tear had developed which required repair, and Bobby could clearly see his recently acquired library book, Strange Tales of the Weird, peeking out one of its sharp, new corners.  The sight of the book made him forget all about the bloodied math test and Mrs. Winkey's mocking features.  He had gone to great lengths to secure this book, having stalked its very first borrower, Randy Reinhold, the entire first week Randy had it, waiting for its return to the general circulation. When that rat Randy had renewed the book for yet another week, Bobby almost lost his mind. 


First thing, this page reminds me of The Neverending Story. Is it anything like that? Because that would be awesome! And if not? Still awesome!

Now, onto my comments. As I was reading the first couple of paragraphs, I found myself wondering about the fantasy aspects. Then, I got to the part about the book, and I was very intrigued. I also wondered why he was dreading for the bell to ring when he was looking forward to the book. You might have more impact if you started with the book details, then went on to describe his struggle getting home, etc. That would also help eliminate the telling that's happening in the first couple of paragraphs, and you could show us instead. 

Thank you so much for sharing your work with us! It's a great start!

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

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.