Interview with Melissa Roske Author of KAT GREENE COMES CLEAN

Melissa Roske is the author of KAT GREENE COMES CLEAN She completely embodies the MG writing community because she’s about the friendliest and most supportive person you will meet. Before I talk to Melissa, here’s more about her book: 

Eleven-year-old Kat Greene has a lot on her pre-rinsed plate, thanks to her divorced mom’s obsession with cleaning. When Mom isn’t scrubbing every inch of their Greenwich Village apartment, she’s boiling the silverware or checking Kat’s sheets for bedbugs. It’s enough to drive any middle schooler crazy! Add friendship troubles to the mix, a crummy role in the school play, and Mom’s decision to try out for “Clean Sweep,” a competitive-cleaning TV game show, and what have you got? More trouble than Kat can handle—at least, without a little help from her friends.

I’m so excited about this book, Melissa! I recently finished OCDaniel and it’s definitely one of those books that has stuck with me. You also tackle OCD in your book and it’s both personal to you and underrepresented in MG lit. 

Would you like to let us know how OCD has played a part in your life and how it inspired Kat’s story?

This may sound strange, but OCD played a huge part in my life while I was growing up, but I didn’t know it. Let me explain. My dad used to check the locks on the front door, as well as the gas jets on the stove, over and over, especially before he went to sleep at night. I figured he was just being careful, but I now know he had OCD. Even stranger, it wasn’t until I was done writing the book that I realized that the mom in the story, who has a cleaning compulsion, is actually based on my dad. It honestly hadn’t occurred to me, at least not on a conscious level. My dad, however, in addition to being a “checker,” is the opposite of Kat’s mom. He is extremely messy and keeps everything. I actually found an expired credit card in his wallet from 1998! I have some OCD symptoms too, like the need to have my window shades fixed at a certain level, and feeling uncomfortable if a drawer is left open or a cabinet door is ajar. Still, I wouldn’t say my OCD adversely affects my life. It’s just annoying, and disconcerting at times. To my family, and to myself.

You’ve had a pretty prolific career from an advice columnist to a life coach. What was it that made you choose writing as your next career?

I’d always been interested in writing, especially creative writing, but it wasn’t until I was working as a life coach, helping my clients achieve their goals, that I realized I wasn’t achieving my goal: to write a novel. So I hired my own life coach, the amazing Sara Lewis Murre, and got down to work. Sara helped me to stay on track by holding me accountable for my writing goals. She suggested, for instance, that I establish a regular writing routine, using a timer for each session. I wasn’t allowed to leave my chair until the timer dinged! I also tried to adhere to a daily word count, which helped. Little by little, the words added up until I had an 80,000-word novel. It was chick-lit novel that ended up in my drawer, but that’s beside the point, isn’t it? 

How long did it take you to complete KAT?

As above, KAT was not my first book. My first book was a chick-lit novel called Good Girls Don’t Go Commando. I suspect the title was better than the book, because I was unable to obtain literary representation. Several agents actually liked the premise and requested pages, but apparently chick lit was “dead” and nobody thought the book would sell. Keeping that in mind, I decided to try my hand at another genre: middle-grade fiction. I wrote the first draft back in 2011. It was only 100 pages long, but I knew I had something I could work with, so I did another draft. And another. And then another. A billion drafts later (!), I started querying agents. Within a year I had representation, but the manuscript didn’t sell and my agent and I parted ways. I then rewrote the novel from top to bottom, changed the title, and started querying all over again. This time I found an agent who was able to sell the manuscript. I signed the contract with Charlesbridge in 2015.

What’s been the most surprising (or maybe frustrating) thing about the process of getting published?

How long everything takes. There’s a lot of waiting involved, which can be very, very frustrating. Still, I remind myself that waiting is part of the process, and there’s nothing I can do about it. Unfortunately, patience isn’t one of my strong points, so I need a lot of reminding!

I hear ya! And I think everyone in the query trenches can attest to this too. Thanks for joining us and all the best with KAT now out in the world!

If you want to know more about Melissa or her book, check her out here:
WebsiteFacebook / TwitterGoodreads

and her book here:

Amazon/ Barnes & Noble/ IndieBound/ Goodreads  

 

 

Kristi Wientge is the author of KARMA KHULLAR’S MUSTACHE.

MYC: Writing “Other” with Sensitivity

Welcome to this week’s Master Your Craft post! Each Wednesday we’ll discuss prewriting and drafting a new book from the BIG IDEA to QUERYING. Last week, we talked about the Power of Metaphor. This week, we’ll discuss writing “other” characters.

What is writing “Other”?

It simply means writing characters that are not like yourself.

Some writers are terrified to try this. If you’ve ever witnessed arguments about writing diversely or seen Twitter posts “dragging” authors who make mistakes when they tried to do so, you probably understand why!

But, it’s important that the stories we craft represent the world we inhabit. This post at Lit Reactor by K. Tempest Bradford sums up the importance of diversity in our writing and our reading pretty well, especially this paragraph:

 

Seeing oneself reflected in fiction, even if partially, is important for people from marginalized communities and identities. It’s also important for people who align with the dominant paradigm as well. It allows them to see and understand that people who aren’t like them exist outside of narrow stereotypes and also outside of the confines of their own narrow understanding.

 

So hopefully, you’ve included an interesting variety of people from different cultures, beliefs, or abilities in your masterpiece. And if not, this is a great time to tweak a few characters to give your story depth and sparkle.

 

But…

And this is a REALLY BIG BUT

Don’t do it unless you’re invested in doing it well.  

There are a few steps to that process.

Ask Yourself Why????

Why are you writing this “other” character?

Maybe you have a unique perspective. For example, you may have adopted a child of a different ethnicity or maybe your child has a disability and you want the world to see life through her eyes. Maybe your nephew has recently “come out” and you want (with his permission) to use his experiences to help others. Having a personal connection to writing “other” automatically puts pressure on you to get it right.

But maybe your reason is just because you feel it’s important to show that a gay, black, hearing-impaired boy can have exciting adventures. That’s okay too. BUT, you’re going to have to work extra hard to make sure your character is authentic and realistic for your reader. Put yourself in the shoes of the gay, black, hearing-impaired boy who might be read your story. Will he like it? Will he relate to the character? Will he recommend it to his friends?

After you’ve answered why, the real work begins.

Research!

A lot of it. Thoroughly. Yes, it’s a lot of work. But if you care about your readers and you want to make fans, you’ll do it. If you don’t approach your characters thoughtfully, you may do more harm than good and lose readers in the process. One of the worse things you can do is to write stereotypical characters.

Examples: the blind person who can “see” visions, the crippled evil villain, the savage Native American, the gay male who loves theatre, the sassy black girl…

Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope.

As we mentioned in our post about Writing Cross-Culturally, not only are those stereotypes unrealistic, but––especially in kid lit––they do harm. Just like there are millions of different behaviors of a “typical” white girl, the same is true of every character regardless of religious beliefs, skin color, sexual orientation, bodily abilities…

Make all your characters real people. (For more details about how to do this see this post on character development and this one on supporting characters.) Understand what makes them tick, their beliefs, their concerns, their limitations, and their special abilities. This is important even if your “other” character isn’t the main character.

See below for a list of resources about writing a variety of “other” characters.

Sensitivity Readers!

Yes, you’ll need them. Several in fact. If you don’t know what that is, read this or this. You may have a person in your life who can serve as a sensitivity reader for the “other” that is in your story, but I’d also suggest finding a reader that you don’t know. A reader who doesn’t know you personally will be more comfortable with being completely honest with you and will be able to provide a deeper insight to make your story more authentic. Heads up: If you haven’t employed a sensitivity reader before you submit to an agent, sometimes they will ask you to find one. Sometimes your editor will do that, but you should be prepared to pay a sensitivity reader for their time and experience. And here’s the most important part: LISTEN TO YOUR SENSITIVITY READERS!

One recent example of a book about “other” is Dusti Bowling’s Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus. The story is about a girl who was born without arms. But Dusti has arms. How could she possibly write this book? She did her homework and followed up by reaching out to someone who knew first-hand what it was like to live without arms. Check out this Publisher’s weekly post to find out what inspired Dusti to write this book and this interview for more info about her research and sensitivity reader.

Here’s a database for finding sensitivity readers: Writing In The Margins

Own Up to Your Mistakes!

This may be the most important step. Hopefully you’ve taken the first three steps very seriously and done all your homework. But no matter how hard you try, you will make mistakes because you are human. The best thing to do is to very clearly apologize to all those who you’ve offended. (Please note: True apologies do not contain the word “but”.) Accept your mistake(s) and learn from it. Do not blame anyone, not your friend readers, your betas, or your sensitivity readers. It’s yours. Own it. Move forward graciously.

General Resources:

Twitter Handles You Should Follow:

@writingtheother

@diversebooks

@disabilityInLit

Race and Ethnicity:

Gender:

Sexual Orientation:

Disability:

Be brave in your writing, but sensitive to your readers.

Let us know about other resources in the comments! Thanks for reading this week and come back next week to read our discussion about Writing Openings That Hook Readers and Endings That Turn Them Into Fans.

MICHELLE LEONARD is a math and science nerd, a children/teens bookseller, and a SCBWI member who writes middle-grade and young adult fiction. Her young adult sci-fi short story IN A WHOLE NEW LIGHT , about a teen girl who uses technology to fight racism, is in the BRAVE NEW GIRLS ANTHOLOGY: STORIES OF GIRLS WHO SCIENCE AND SCHEME. Proceeds from the anthology go towards scholarships for the Society of Women Engineers! Connect with Michelle on Twitter.

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Meet Jada Jones! New chapter books by Kelly Starling Lyons

Happy Birthday to Jada Jones! She’s a “rock” star and a good citizen in two new chapter books released September 19th by Kelly Starling Lyons and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley Newton.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Goodreads: Rock Star                                                           Goodreads: Class Act

“Jada Jones thinks there’s nothing cooler than rocks. So, when her teacher gives the class a group project on rocks and minerals, Jada knows she’s going to rock the assignment. Her only problem is finding a group of friends to work with. For Jada, rocks are easier to find than friends. Or are they?” –back cover of JADA JONES ROCK STAR

These five sentences sum up my entire childhood. I was always the kid who liked things no one else liked—slime mold, rocks, microscopes, math homework. But Jada has skills I didn’t have. Not only does she “rock” science, but in JADA JONES ROCK STAR she figures out how to “rock” friendships too. What I would have done to have a friend like Jada while growing up!

This chapter book wins 5 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟 stars from me for being fast-paced and easy-to-read with relatable, interesting characters including BFF to all, Jada Jones❤️. Add to this Jada’s love of science and Vanessa Brantley Newton’s gorgeous illustrations––and BOOM! This becomes a book I’m excited to recommend to all my young friends. I can’t wait to feast my eyes on CLASS ACT because it’s about another topic near and dear to me:  being a good citizen!

But don’t take my word for it! Kirkus and School Library Journal think these are top-notch reads for young readers too!

Hurry to your local bookstore to ask for them.  Indiebound   Barnes & Noble  Amazon

I’m honored to have Kelly Starling Lyons here to talk with us about Jada Jones and writing. Kelly is the award-winning author of many books for young people including ONE MORE DINO ON THE FLOOR, HOPE’S GIFT, ONE MILLION MEN AND ME, ELLEN’S BROOM, and one of my favorite’s TEA CAKES FOR TOSH. She is also a member of The Brown Bookshelf, which you can learn more about in Kelly’s interview at From the Mixed Up Files. What I love most about Kelly’s stories is they’re always about special moments, the perfect antidote for our fast-paced world. Not only do her stories linger with you, but I often find myself reflecting on my own memories after reading one of her books. What a beautiful gift to readers!

Welcome, Kelly! Thank you so much for taking time out to talk with us at The Winged Pen!

You’re the author of several picture books including ONE MORE DINO ON THE FLOOR, ONE MILLION MEN AND ME, and many others including one of my favorites, TEACAKES for TOSH. How was the process for writing a chapter book different from writing a picture book?

Thanks so much for your support, Michelle. You have to write tight with a picture book. You want to create visual scenes that open up illustrative possibilities for the artist who is your storytelling partner. Lyricism and rhythm are important, because picture books are often read aloud.

Writing a chapter book meant I had more space to tell the story. I could include more description and dialogue. Kids would be reading these stories mostly on their own, so I needed to end each chapter with a little hook to keep them turning the page. My first book, NEATE: Eddie’s Ordeal, was a chapter book. It was cool returning to that genre.

Jada Jones loves rocks in book one, runs for class representative in book two, and is overall a great role model for citizenship and navigating the friendship woes that most of us have experienced. Do these experiences come from your own childhood?

 Jada is mostly inspired by my daughter and girls I’ve met during school visits. But there’s a bit of me in her too.  I collected rocks as a kid. My favorite was a hunk of quartz I found when visiting an aunt in Eden, NC. Like Jada, I cared a lot about friendships. Her experiences in the books celebrate the bravery and resilience of smart, big-hearted kids I know.

It was important to me to center an African-American girl. We need more chapter books featuring kids of color. I’m proud that Jada will help kids see themselves and their friends.

The illustrations from Vanessa Brantley Newton gives me the same happy, warm feeling that the text does. Have you worked with her before? Did you have any input in the illustrations?

Vanessa is my sister-friend. I’ve always been a big admirer of her art, but I haven’t worked with her before. I feel so blessed that she’s the illustrator for the Jada Jones series. She captured Jada’s joy, brilliance and sensitivity in such a lovely way. The final decisions regarding artwork are up to the art director, illustrator and editor. But my editor did share Vanessa’s wonderful sketches with me and gave me the chance to share thoughts.

Will there be more Jada stories? I hope so. If kids really like the first two books, that could bring the chance for more. Crossing my fingers.

What can you tell us about what you’re working on now? I’m working on a picture book biography of an unsung African-American trailblazer and a forthcoming picture book that celebrates family coming together to honor their heritage and land.

Whoa! Those books sound awesome! Here goes the Lightning Round? Hands Kelly a chocolate bar for strength!

If you had a superpower, what would it be? Healing

Wooden pencil or mechanical? Wooden pencil.

Coffee or tea? Tea.

Sweet or salty?  Both. I love chasing something salty with something sweet like popcorn with chocolate.

Dog, cat, or other?  Dog.

Plotter or pantser? Both.

Any advice for all those aspiring authors out there? The best advice I received was years ago at the Highlights Writers Workshop at Chautauqua. Editor Patti Gauch told us to “write the story only you can tell.” Dig deep and find stories that celebrate children and are informed by who you are. Another piece of advice I give to emerging authors is don’t let rejections get you down. All it takes is one yes.

Thank you again, Kelly! Happy book birthday to you and wonderful Jada!

Kelly Starling Lyons is an award-winning author,  a writing mentor active in SCBWI, and a member of The Brown Bookshelf, a group dedicated to spreading “awareness about the myriad of Black voices writing for young readers.” Visit her website to learn more about her. And Jada has a website too! 

MICHELLE LEONARD is a math and science nerd, a children/teens bookseller, and a SCBWI member who writes middle-grade and young adult fiction. Her young adult sci-fi short story IN A WHOLE NEW LIGHT , about a teen girl who uses technology to fight racism, is in the BRAVE NEW GIRLS ANTHOLOGY: STORIES OF GIRLS WHO SCIENCE AND SCHEME. Proceeds from the anthology go towards scholarships for the Society of Women Engineers! Connect with Michelle on Twitter.

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A New Writing Podcast! MOM WRITES: THE DIRTY LAUNDRY ABOUT WRITING WITH KIDS

Mom Writes Podcast, Jennie Nash I subscribe to Jennie Nash’s newsletter and read her blog posts. She’s an instructor at the UCLA Extension Writing Program; the founder of Author Accelerator, a book coaching company; and generally a smart lady. So when I read that she was involved in a new writing podcast I wanted it to know what it was about.

Mom Writes: The Dirty Laundry about Writing with Kids is the brainchild of Abby Mathews, an unpublished writer mom. Abby was struggling through the process of writing a book with young kids underfoot. She guessed that she was not the only one who’d started stories and run into difficulties along the way and had the idea for a series of podcasts showing Author Accelerator’s step-by-step process for helping writers. In the podcasts, Jennie discusses the challenges of just getting a book written at a quality level that would pique the interest of traditional publishers, let alone accomplishing this with several kids and their friends dashing through the house or dribbling a basketball in the room overhead. Jennie will lead Abby and her friend, Melanie Parish, through the Author Accelerator’s Blueprint for a Book program, critiquing their manuscripts and helping them to do everything from identify their ideal reader to strengthen their story concepts to improve their writing skills. The podcast will also include tips from other Author Accelerator writing coaches and tips and encouragement from writers who’ve used the program.

Does it sound like an infomercial? I was a bit nervous about that. But as Jennie talks about why writers have trouble finishing their stories and face rejection when they query literary agents, you can hear how much she cares about helping writers improve. And what better way is there to work through common writing problems than by listening in as Jennie helps Abby and Melanie fix their stories?

I invited Jennie, Abby and Melanie here to talk a little more about their podcast.

Rebecca: Jennie, thanks for this podcast! As someone who has been writing for seven years and still does not have an agent, I would have loved to have had this podcast earlier in my journey! You talk in the first episodes about why writing a book seems a lot easier than it is. Can you give Winged Pen readers a sense of this?

Jennie: Yes! So the tricky thing with book writing is that book reading is a thing most of us do Jennie Nash, Author Accelerator, Mom Writes Podcastalmost every day, and have been doing almost every day for many years. In that way, it’s more akin to eating breakfast then it is to, say, flying an airplane. Most of us have never flown an airplane and never will. We also don’t presume that we have the slightest idea how to do it. Anyone who gets into the cockpit of a plane with the intention of flying it has embarked on a rigorous training program, passed tests and shown competence. But because reading is so familiar to us — an activity that we love and cherish, and probably consider ourselves quite good at  — we often presume that we know how to write a book that will captivate a reader. We imagine that we could just sit down at the keyboard and craft a compelling narrative.

But very often, we can’t.  At least not our first time out, or even our second or third or fourth.

Writing a book may not be as complex an undertaking as flying a 747, but it is still a very complex undertaking. Whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, you are making a myriad interrelated choices and designing a logical framework and organizing a ton of material and determining a structure and deciding on a point or argument and considering your audience, and deploying various skills (skills related to scene structure, dialogue, body language, language use, narrative drive, pacing, flow and, resolution) and underneath it all is a great deal of emotion — your emotion, your reader’s emotion, and in fiction, your character’s emotion.

It’s a lot! And many writers simply underestimate how hard it is — or how hard it is to do well.

Rebecca: Abby, you are sharing your manuscript, mistakes and all, with the Internet! That’s very brave! Why did you decide to take time out from your writing to create the Mom Writes podcast?

Abby Mathews, Mom Writes PodcastAbby: You know, deep down it’s probably just the teacher in me! In my former life (BC, before children) I was a high school art teacher. I can’t tell you all the crazy things I learned how to do in the name of teaching. Once the kids had the idea to make a really, really big block print but we didn’t have a large enough printing press. To solve the problem I learned how to turn a car into a printing press! So, see, this isn’t the craziest thing I’ve ever done. But it does feel pretty close.

At one point in an early episode, Jennie told me that an agent wouldn’t have made it past page one of my manuscript. Page one! That’s when I paused and thought, “Oh my god. It’s really bad! I am insane for doing this in front of a live studio audience…” (Well, not live, but you get what I mean!) After the initial sting wore off, it occurred to me this is exactly why I have to do it. I’m putting all my dirty laundry out there because I know I’m not alone. I know there are others out there just like me- like us- toiling away at their kitchen tables trying to teach themselves how to do this massive thing. And we need help. Because this problem is not going to go away. Writing is a curse, and one bad manuscript isn’t going to lift it. I’m on my third bad manuscript and I keep coming back for more!

My solution was to find professional help. (And book coaches seem to double as therapists, so trust me, it’s a lot of bang for your buck!) I feel confident that coaching is going to help me write the book that’s in my head- the one where readers don’t just make it off the first page, but to the end of the novel and want to come back for more. I’m so confident, in fact, that I am willing to lay it all out there to teach others how to do it as well. Even if it is super embarrassing!

Plus, I won’t lie, having to publicly answer for my work keeps me on track!

Rebecca: Jennie, what are some of the common writing problems that you’ll be talking about in the podcast?

Jennie:  Abby and Mel are perfect “subjects” to show how the chaos of creativity can be tamed because they exhibited all the most common problems! Neither of them had really thought before they started to write. Like so many writers, they just liked to write and felt called to write and started to write. (This pull is often very strong for moms of little kids because it’s one time in your day when you can just rest in the musings of your own mind. You don’t have to make sure no one is going to stick a fork in the electrical outlet or figure out how to make a dinner for one kid who won’t eat anything but white food and another who won’t eat anything but green. )Then Abby and Mel did what writers tend to do next — they went to conferences and workshops and writing groups, and kept writing, and really just kept digging their holes deeper — the holes caused by lack of thinking first.

So by thinking first I don’t mean plotting. I don’t mean giant grids of scenes. I mean understanding your story’s deep-level WHY and bringing that to the visible surface, and working to let the reader IN. That’s the work most writers skip — and skipping it leads to all the writerly problems, from openings that wander to middles that sag to ends that fall flat — and Abby and Mel were no different.

What’s fun is that Abby is writing a middle grade fantasy starting from scratch and Mel is revising an adult sci fi dystopian thriller so, in addition to the common problems I mentioned above, we get to dig into a lot of different problems from a topical standpoint — so everything from the logic of an imaginary world, to the motivation of a villain, to a character’s true desire.

Rebecca: Melanie, you guys got a lot of feedback on your opening pages from Jennie. What was it like to go back to those pages and revise after the feedback.

Melanie:  I’m not gonna lie, it felt a bit brutal at first.  Neither Abby or I had a lot of Mel, Mom Writes Podcastexperience being edited.  It was eye-opening, though, and I personally felt so much clarity on my story afterwards.  I had been unable to articulate what was wrong with my draft and Jennie was able to pinpoint exactly where I had gone wrong and how to fix it.  She doesn’t do the work for us, and I don’t feel that as a book coach she is taking me in any one direction vs another.  It’s more like she’s asking the right questions in order to help me find my own answers – questions that I initially didn’t ask myself when I first started writing my novel!  We are learning so much about the process that one can (and maybe should!) do before you write a single word of your story.

I’d like to thank Jennie, Abby and Melanie for joining us on the Winged Pen today! Mom Writes launched September 15th and is available here. Check it out! And tune in for our Twitter chat on October 2nd, 8 pm EDT, 5 pm PT to Tweet live with Jennie, Abby and Melanie, find out more about Mom Writes, and get tips on writing with kids constantly pulling on your elbow!

REBECCA J. ALLEN writes young adult science fiction with heroines much braver than she is and middle grade stories that blend mystery and adventure. She on Twitter at @RebeccaJ_Allen and her website is writerebeccawrite.wordpress.com.

Four on 400 September Feedback

Thank you to all the brave souls who entered this month’s Four on 400 contest!

Sharing your writing takes courage, and we appreciate your enthusiasm for our contest.Below, we’ve posted the first 400 words from this month’s winner, along with feedback from at least four of our members. We also encourage our readers to share their (constructive) suggestions and encouragement in the comments section below.

Middle Grade: REMY (Working Title)

You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.” Mahatma Gandhi

But the town was dirty and dying. Rémy hardly remembered it being otherwise. And what happened when more and more of the molecules afloat in this village became stained with the scum of fear?

She knelt in the dirt and lowered her face close to the ground, almost as if praying, like she’d seen Karthik’s mother do. But instead of praying, Rémy was scheming. She eyed the stones spread across the yard—hers red, Karthik’s blue—then glanced up at him. His back showed no sign of watching. Instead, he faced across the street, and she took the opportunity to give her General a shove. She sprang up from the ground, watching the General roll destructively through his array of blue stones and displace most of them.

Rémy sauntered to Karthik’s side, eyeing him to see if he’d noticed anything. But he leaned on his staff, watching his mother across the street. Missus Kapoor stood outside her front door with a screwdriver, twisting calmly at the door’s threshold. She dropped one small screw after another into the pocket of her apron, until she’d pried loose the Kindivine that had greeted every visitor to the Kapoor house since before Rémy and Karthik were born. This charm, too, went into the flowered apron, but she seemed to continue to hold it tightly, her hand remaining locked away inside that pocket as a truck rumbled past and hid her, leaving smoke in its wake.

The truck stopped in front of the Campanas’ house, where they had been lining up their belongings all morning. Those important enough to take. Cousins and granduncles worked swiftly, many hands piling these into and onto the truck, until it was precarious with the weight of their collective memories and tears. It was done in a smattering of minutes. Last, they tucked Greatmissus Campana into a small passenger roost and the truck lumbered off, a few young men hanging from its sides. A small boy Rémy didn’t know ran behind, waving and shouting.

“Karthikeya!” Their heads both snapped to where Missus Kapoor had reappeared at the door. “Time to eat!” she called.

Karthik hadn’t even looked at Rémy. But as he started across the street, she distinctly heard his voice carry back.

“I saw what you did. Expect retaliation.”

Rémy smiled at his small back, retreating across the great boundary of road.

Michelle– I can already tell this is going to be a compelling story about families being forced out of their homes and a young girl who is plotting a way to fight back. You can slow this down just a little to ground us in time and place. Because you’ve quoted Ghandi, I’m assuming this is India, but it would be helpful if there were details in the scene to confirm this–types of belongings, lingering smells of food in the air, etc. I’d also work on the first two sentences to create lines that will hook a reader. Here is a post about first lines that might help. Specifically, the “scum of fear” threw me out of the reading while I tried to understand what that meant. A few sentences down, you refer to “her General.” I wasn’t sure what that meant. Why is it “hers”? Overall though, this is a great start because you’ve piqued my interest! Best of luck!

Jessica: So much to love here! You’ve done a great job setting up the tension, which makes me want to continue reading. That said, the opening jumps around a little too much for me to fully immerse myself in the story. We go from Remy worrying about her world to her playing a game and then back to the troubles in her world. I’d suggest starting with the second paragraph; flesh out the game and setting just a touch more so that we don’t have to work so hard to figure out what she means by the General and we feel we’re there with her. After that, the opening flows nicely. Well done!

Karin: I love your language and the emotion and tension you create with Rémy as well as the other characters, who are also so beautifully anchored in action. I wouldn’t change too much at all. I would consider cutting the third sentence as it’s a little too telly and pulls me out of the story. Later you can consider replacing “his” before “array” with “Karthik’s” as a little clearer. Also, I pictured the truck rumbling past and leaving them in a wake of smoke, but in the fourth paragraph I was confused because this same truck stops at the Campana’s house. Perhaps you can give us as a transition some sense of distance here; for example, “At the end of the street the truck came to an abrupt stop at the Campanas’ house…” I don’t think you need paragraph 6 (two sentences) as a set up to K saying he saw what R did because  you did a wonderful job of showing us that K wasn’t looking at but at his mother, and without these sentences his remark is even more satisfying. These are minor nitpicky details because I really loved these 400 words!

Gabrielle: Your prose is lovely, and the feeling is dark, which I love. I think, too, you’ve done good work developing character and voice in page one. I agree, however, that it jumps around a lot–without the descriptive part of the narrative that we need to root us a little better. We meet too many people, too quickly, without seeing/sensing them or the space they occupy. It’s unusual, I think, to have the feeling and the pull of a narrative so well done, but be missing that (usually easier) piece. If you give us a few lines of sensory setting description, and/or physical character description, trickled in,  as the characters move through, it will space the scene out a little and help us see it as it happens. Do that, and I think this will be gold.