Tuesday, April 24, 2012

THE HOLY WILD–A YA First Page Critique

By: Kathleen Pickering  http://www.kathleenpickering.com

Yukon

I had the privilege to read this anonymous first page of a Young Adult novel. It’s intriguing, but IMHO left me a little cold on the emotional side.

I made comments after the work. This writer has talent. Viewing a dead loved one on the first page definitely is riveting. With just a little more emotional punch, this piece will rock! Read on. I’d like to hear your thoughts, as well.

THE HOLY WILD

My father is frozen solid. He lies face-up on the Ski-Doo trailer in my front yard, bound in place by a length of yellow rope around his torso. His legs jut out over the back, and from where I stand in the open doorway of our house, I can see the lower half of his face – blue-white skin and a moustache encrusted with ice. I stare at him and forget to breathe. I want to run to him, to grab his shoulders and shake him from sleep, but I can’t. It’s as if the cold has claimed me as well, slowing my mind and stiffening my limbs.

January air claws its way into my lungs. Beside me, my mother sways. I expect her to crumple, to break as I’m about to break, but her hand darts out and latches onto my forearm, steadying us both.

That really is him.

At the bottom of the steps, Chase Taylor and his father stand on the tramped-down snow. They whisper, but I hear. They’re debating whether it’s better to take my father inside to thaw or leave him outside in the cold. My head shakes no – no, they can’t be having this discussion. No, he’s not gone. No, he never wandered off into the Yukon wilderness in the first place.

When they decide to wrap him in the old orange tarpaulin that covers our woodpile and deposit him in the snowdrift against the south side of the house, a scream rises up and lodges in my throat.

“At least we found him,” Mr. Taylor says to my mom.

At least we found him? What kind of stupid comment is that? The concept better late than never doesn’t exactly apply in this case. I fight to keep myself from pummeling him with my fists, reminding myself that it’s not his fault. In the dying light, I ease out a long, slow breath and work to convince myself that being found is decidedly better than being lost, even if you’re dead.

***

This is a compelling beginning, but I must say, for a first page, I don’t have enough information (who, what, where, when, why and/or . . . why not?) to be emotionally invested in such a difficult moment. So, I was left shrugging my shoulders and saying, “So what?”

Now, as someone who witnessed her father’s death over 20 years ago and misses him every day, I understand the trauma behind viewing the frozen, lifeless body of one’s hero and wanting to puke at the logical, but morbid and heart-wrenching debate over whether the body should be kept frozen outside or brought inside to thaw. But, some of the important facts have not been delivered to gain my full empathy. What I want to know is:

- Who is the narrator here? Gender? (From the voice, I’d say female.) Age?

- Why did the father wander into the Yukon, and why was that bad? (Other than his death, of course.)

-Are they in the Yukon now? (From the title, HOLY WILD – which is a GREAT title, I’d say, yes.)

- What is going to happen now that he is dead?

- Most important of all, tell me how this character’s world just crumbled and what he or she is going to do about it.

Oh, and the last paragraph on this submission made an excellent hook. It could also be a great first paragraph.

Now let me add that all of this info could not be delivered in the first page, but I do need to know one or two more facts to hook my emotional investment in this character and the story.

For example, the sentence, The concept better late than never doesn’t exactly apply in this case,’ does little to move the story forward. That sentence could be omitted and one with more pertinent info be added. (i.e., My father found dead won’t protect us from his brother’s claim on our land. Or whatever the threat is. You get my drift. More info to invest the reader in the story.)

That’s the nit-pick of my evaluation.

Now, what is wonderful about this first page is that the writing is crisp, the scene visuals are crystal clear and my imagination is triggered to the tragedy. I can see the build up into a potentially threatening situation. The Yukon is an interesting setting about which I know nothing. So I find that particular piece of geography interesting. I like that.

All I need is the emotional punch behind this awful death and I’ll be hooked. Believe me. So much can be delivered in one sentence. This first page has five to six paragraphs. Some of the exposition could be cut to answer one or two of the questions which would move the story forward while enlightening—and hooking the reader.

This was an exciting beginning. On a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the highest, I’d give this work a 7. I would read more.

And again, this is my opinion. . . and you know the drill . . . everybody has one!

Thanks for submitting your page and letting your work air for all to see, oh Brave Author!

Write on!

xox, Piks

13 comments:

  1. I want to know more.

    I agree with your comments, Piks, and I can see how the "Who, What, When, Where, and How" are important here.

    It's tough to get it all in to the first 350, and that's what's so valuable about these critiques on TKZ.

    This author did a great job of putting me into the head of a kid whose Dad's body is now under a tarp on a snowbank.

    One thing's for sure, I'd flip the page to find out the answers.

    Paula

    ReplyDelete
  2. I agree with your overall assessment, Piks. It's tough to ID the char in first person, but necessary imo. This is a solid start, but I want to know a little more to become completely invested.

    Also, this is nitpicky, but I'd work to eliminate the two "myselfs" in the last paragragh & maybe add that extra explanation.

    "I fight to keep from hitting him. It's not his fault that my father...(insert reason why dad wandered off to die or foreshadow something to come now that he's dead)."

    ReplyDelete
  3. I think it's great. Upon seeing a loved one's dead body can evoke different responses and emotions in people. I don't have a problem with that or the fact that some information will come later, and probably sooner than later. It's a fantastic setup. Heck yes, I'd read on. Great ability here. Sex of narrator would be nice, but I'm not caring at this point. I have to say––and excuse me––it's a scene about a Popsicle.

    ReplyDelete
  4. This demonstrates the "opening disturbance" superbly. I like the first line and the whole set-up. There is one major concern that stopped me "cold," as it were. And that is how this body is being treated. Maybe I don't know enough about the setting, but...

    - the men seem to be handling the body like a piece of meat. Bring it inside to "thaw"? Or leave it in the snow?

    - why aren't they asking the widow what she wants them to do with with her own husband?

    - why not phone the local sheriff? This is a dead human body, after all, not a Caribou.

    There may be explanations for this. If so, they should be up front so I can really understand why they're acting this way.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I found the critique fascinating. As I've been privileged to read more of this work, let me assure you that Shari never lets go of the emotional intensity of this story. As the story moves forward, she weaves her father's death and its repercussions brilliantly. With putting this first page out there, she is indeed very brave, as critiques can be very subjective at the best of times. Still, having said that, the reviewer here has made some good points, ones that can only strengthen what is already a good story.

    ReplyDelete
  6. This is a great scene for a start. The frozen dad, the hushed tones, the handling of the body. It's all well written and the indignation is felt. To me, that's a tough thing to get across, I think. But, it makes me want to keep reading. I want to know how this all happened.

    This author starts with a tragedy, but it's not like when my father died in the hospital, or when my mother died while in hospice. To find the body of a loved one like that would be hard for me to describe, but I experienced it in the few paragraphs I read.

    ReplyDelete
  7. As one who has lived in the Alaska bush (next door neighbor to the Yukon bush) I totally identified with this sample. I was a Wilderness Rescue EMT back in the day and have actually seen a dead body stored in a similar way until troopers could come to claim it. In the northern half of Alaska and Yukon we can't bury the dead until spring thaw so they just sit if they're not cremated.

    As far as the callousness of the men regarding the body, that's pretty true to form for a lot of Arctic dwellers, especially in remote areas. Not a lot of mourning goes on. Death is just a part of life.

    I want to read this book when it is done. Perhaps I could even get the chance to do its audiobook narration, eh?

    ReplyDelete
  8. I was hoping Basil would weigh in.

    My dad was in Alaska back in the 1940s and some of his stories (when he forgot that I was just a kid) were in this vein.

    Such as what to do with the body in the storehouse because they had just gotten a food shipment in. Yeah, Joe was a great guy, but the food has arrived!

    And there is the practicality of do you leave him in peace, or if the family is going to want to do the funeral thing, he's going to have to be thawed out.

    Nicely evokative with some of the nit crits it will clean up well.

    Terri

    ReplyDelete
  9. I thought this was excellent. Sure, there are always opportunities to tweak and polish, but I think this is really solid.

    From the other comments, you can see you're raising lots of questions, which is great. I disagree with some of the others that you need to answer more of them right now. The goal is to keep us reading, and you accomplish that. I like your setup.

    I think I would like to know the sex of the protag. I also agree I felt like I wanted to get a bit closer to the character's emotional response to seeing her father lying there. I'm talking minimal tweaks--just squeezing the lemon a little more.

    The details you use are good and well-written, but there's a measure of distance. I hear her (?) reaction, but I don't "feel" it. Does that makes sense?

    I'm sure you keep building on that. I do feel I'm in good hands as I read this and would want to read on.

    Best of luck with this!

    ReplyDelete
  10. Nice example of showing the emotions of the character through the behavior and physical sensations experienced. And not a one of them a cliche! Wish I could do that.

    How important is it to identify the gender and other details at this point? I always assume that the reader has either been referred and so the referrer raved about the main character, thereby revealing things like age and gender. Or the reader read the back cover blurb and isn't as clueless as we are coming to these pieces. Just wondering.

    Kathy

    ReplyDelete
  11. Thank you so much for all the feedback, everyone -- greatly appreciated!

    ReplyDelete
  12. Anonymous-- It was an honor to read the page. As I said, it's a powerhouse intro. IMHO, simply adding more discriptives like, "a daughter shouldn't have to witness her father . . . " or a hint to the devastation to follow would bring this reader more underneath the protag's skin--and you know, that's where I want to be!

    I wish you every succes with this book. Let us know when it's out. I'll buy a copy!

    ReplyDelete
  13. I like the writing but have to agree that the first page fell flat on the emotional front. I'd be willing to keep on going to page 2, 10 and 20 to see if things improved.

    ReplyDelete