Thursday, January 26, 2012

Survival or Getting Through First Paragraphs

Review excerpt from Survival by A.M. Hargrove (Editor Sarajoy Porter) available on

Maddie slowly cracked opened (sic) her eyes to see the brilliance of the morning peeking through her tent. Squinting, she poked her nose out of her sleeping bag to test the temperature, and just as she imagined, the frost in the air nipped at her. She knew she would have to get up soon to use the facilities, if you could call the outhouse that, and also to make breakfast as well as break down (sic) her campsite.

(Three line paragraph excised. Think Christmas Day.)

She quickly unzipped her toasty sleeping bag, slipped her boots on, threw on a jacket, and unzipped the door to her tent. When she got her first glimpse of the morning, her jaw hit the ground, and she sucked in her breath. She was standing in a winter wonderland, complete with a three inch blanket of snow.


Cat was full of life. There was just no other way to describe her. From the first moment I met her. I knew we'd be BFF's-and I mean forever.  She was my soul sister. AND we were so much alike it was uncanny. Like me, she was constantly in a rush, and she always looked like she had just survived a hurricane. When Catherine made up her mind about something, well, that was it. She was as hardheaded as a cinder block, again, like me, in that regard - and funny! OMG, that girl could make me laugh until my sides were killing me.

She was born and raised in Asheville, North Carolina, so it was easy to find one thing we both loved. That was, no surprise, hiking. She had spent over the summer hiking the Appalachian Trail and was hooked.

Moments later, two adults appeared, which I correctly assumed were her parents. We quickly introduced ourselves and then the question I had so been dreading was popped.

"So Maddie, are your parents here?"

I felt my head swin a bit as I was thrust into another disturbing flashback. (End of quote.)

No star rating expressed since this reader stumbled with the distractions presented by the entrance into the novel's world. It's billed as a young adult paranormal, although the line of teendom and older becomes blurred by the main characters being in college. A male character, named "Henry," could be because the credits list a spouse as a Henry or it's a veiled reference to the character Henry in The Time Traveler's Wife.

Let me put forth my reaction to the excerpts presented, in no way highlighted as representative of the entire novel, just that the words arrived on early pages.

1. The words "cracked opened" in the first line must be a typo. The two words "break down" caused a reading hiccup. Perhaps the term should be "breaking down" or "strike," but, since these words apply primarily to the tent alone, the greater action may be to "pack up" the campsite.
2. Then there is the participle "Squinting." Participles are words ending in "ing" or "ed." They are to describe the subject of the conventional sentence. Does "squinting" describe the nose? Of course not.
3. Maddie supposedly sees the brilliance of the morning peeking through her tent. A paragraph later says, "When she got her first glimpse of the morning..." How can that be? If she had seen the peeking sun brilliance, she couldn't be first glimpse awe-struck when stepping outside her tent minutes later.
4. As one reads, one cannot help but be bombarded by the constant use of "to be" verbs. These inert verbs require the action to be exhumed and enlivened by vigorous verbs. Count the number of times the "to be" past tense verb "was" presents itself in the latter portion of the excerpt.  The inert verbs highlight the "telling" of a story, not its "showing." Review clauses such as "full of life," "were so much alike," and "like she had just survived a hurricane". What specifics are told? Are they cliches, overused and/or meaningless?
5. Metaphors can be confusing. Consider the use of the words "cinder block" connected to "hardheaded." A normal construction cinder block has a hollow core. Does the author wish to convery the character is an "airhead" or merely "stubborn." The traits could be polar opposites.
6. In the latter part of the excerpt, would  the two words "Moments later" be enough to avoid a mind-jarring interruption or merely slight confusion with the time shift from the past to the present?
7. Is all believable? Would a teenage female meeting her parents introduce herself? That's what the language says when it refers to "We quickly introduced outselves."
8. This final comment brings forth the question: Where's the present inciting action that sets forth the central conflict? The introduction travels through backstory with a minimal reader grounding. Yes, this is young adult literature, but how many teenagers spend today trudging through the past. If a teenager lost a parent, do they, at seventeen, lament their seventh birthday party when Mom lit the cake candles or do they suffer losing a job interview or being late for a longed for date when the car won't run and Dad's not there to fix it? And then, there's the placement of the two incidents on the conflict scale.

Author's Note:
Author Donan Berg writes murder mysteries with strong romantic elements and his latest E-book novels are Abbey Burning Love and Baby Bones, neither of which are young adult novels. They may be purchased at and through major E-book retailers. Previews of all four Donan Berg novels are presented at .

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Simple Thing - A Happy Reader

It's preached ad infinitum: the simple thing, do it, live it, praise it. For a writer it's often left unsaid what the "it" is. Let's take a crack.

It's simple to write about the tried and true, chase the hot fad. However, it's usualy counterproductive. Ask the author with the wastebasket of rejection slips attached to vampire pages.

How does one not follow a trend. First, stop. Second, think. Third, experiment. An author's desk surely has large paper clips scattered about or horded in a drawer. What use can be made of them other than clipping printed draft pages together until that chapter is finalized. And, by finalize, the smart author knows a rubber band for loose pages is the better method for publisher submission than paper clips. The leftover paper clips can be bent into holiday ornament hangers, while a stray one or two can manage unruly hairstyles.

Other everyday writing aids, pre-computer definitely, can have uses not stated by the manufacturer. Liquid correction fluid becomes a common solution to scuffed shoes when that personal publishing house interview is obtained. Binder clips might be the granddaddy for multiple uses. They can be seen holding bags closed, i.e., those chips munched on at two in the morning, clipping a reminder note to the vehicle visor, keeping tubes of paste rolled up, and, of course, maintaining tidy coiffures.

So when writing and the heroine/hero needs to keep a hair strand out of those gorgeous, sexy eyes for an extended period, amaze or comfort the reader with a paper or binder clip. If the reader hasn't come across this particular usage, haven't you created a moment where the reader thinks you're a creative genius. And, if a mystery, that clip foreshadows a later more critical use, e.g., the villain who thinks it hilarious and tosses it aside leaves a damning fingerprint fragment or a DNA sample.

Other than crime clues, everyday objects can become a symbol of a character quirk, fetish, red herring or point for humor. What does sucking a paper clip say that sucking a toothpick doesn't? Was the infant death by ingested paper clips accidental, negligent or murderously intentional by a distraught parent or caregiver.

When done thinking of 101 uses for a paper clip in your romance, adventure, western, saga, and/or paranormal, experiment. Do it until you begin to read dozens of stories with fantastic paper clip uses. Then stop. It's a fad. Remember, we don't follow fads. Now take out a piece of scrap paper and, for an exercise, scribble frantically how you can use the rubber band in your writing. Don't get too attached to the actual rubber band before you for it'll be mailed off to that editor adoring your story.