Saturday, February 28, 2009

First Pages: YA / Gmail

I’ve always hated Nancy Drew. Some relative with good intentions bought me the first 3 books in the series when I was 9-years-old and they annoyed the crap out of me. There was something about a perky blonde sleuth that didn’t sit well with me, even at such a young age. So, if someone had told my 9-year-old self that a few months before my 16th birthday I’d decide to start channeling everyone’s favorite girl detective, there is no way I would have believed them.
"Didn't sit well with me" sounds to my ear like an adult speaking rather than a kid.
Why did your character read all three books if they annoyed her?
Channeling, like psychically? Or...? The word choices here aren't quite adding up for me.
Of course that was before I’d even met Ava, let alone read her e-mail.
I stared disbelieving at my computer, wondering if this was some sort of cruel joke.
The second sentence is a cliche.
The unopened e-mail made my heart pound with joy but at the same time sent shivers down my back.
Dropping your reader into the action = good.
Dropping your reader into an emotional reaction your reader can't share = not so good.
It taunted me, sitting bold-faced in my inbox. It didn’t move or disappear or do any of the creepy things I’d expect an e-mail from a ghost to do. It just sat there.
But if Ava was going to email me, she picked the perfect day. It was the first anniversary of her disappearance. The first anniversary of the last time I saw her. The first anniversary of our final fight.
And so, I sat alone in my room, stolen wine cooler in hand, mourning the loss of my best friend. Not pretty.
And, no, I'm not an alcoholic. Do alcoholics even drink wine coolers?
I just have this thing for wine coolers when I'm depressed. And on that night, the sweet fizz of my mom’s Blue Hawaiian wine cooler filled a void that only a stain-your-tongue-blue-quasi-alcoholic drink could fill.
A ghost is emailing her. Ah, I get it, "g-mail".
Don't call it that, it's cheesy.
The ghost aspect is intriguing, but the voice--what the narration focuses on, the words it chooses, the mood it's conveying-- is giving mixed signals. And starting in an emotional place for your main character before we've identified with her puts us on the wrong foot.

So I would suggest backing up just a little so we understand what a shock it is when this email arrives, and then think hard about what information and word choices will put your reader in your main character's head.


Sarah Laurenson said...

Interesting premise. Worth more of a look once this gets tweaked.

Not sure why you mention channeling Nancy Drew (who didn't really exist) and then drop it for receiving an e-mail from a ghost.

Some of the sentence structures confused me as far as timeline is concerned. Like the part of before you met Ava or read her e-mail. This left me wondering if meeting Ava just happened and also had me assuming you read the e-mail already. But the next few sentences dispel both of those conclusions. Putting the two thoughts into one sentence has me thinking they're connected in time like you met her and got an e-mail from her around the same timeframe.

And yes, alcoholics do drink wine coolers.

anotheranon said...

Thanks for sharing this!

Just off the top of my head...

I have a problem with the "wine cooler" part at the end. To me it seems like an odd thing to bring up -- she's gotten an email from her dead friend and she's stopping to explain (in detail) why she's sucking down a wine cooler? I'm not sure I believe that.

Also, I don't know if you need the whole 9 year-old who doesn't like Nancy Drew opening. It's not really about her liking/disliking an old childhood book, but about... Holy Crap! My dead friend is emailing me!

Maybe she should open the email before she decides it's actually from the ghost of her best friend? Seems like she wouldn't jump to that conclusion so quickly -- seems like she'd open it first. Maybe blame it on another friend, at first, and then finally realize it's real?

(Hard to say when I haven't read the rest, take my thoughts with a grain of salt. Good luck!)

Merry Monteleone said...

I liked the tone of the voice. Some of the things, as pointed out by EA and Sarah were a bit confusing... and I think it might work better if you opened up with some sort of action, maybe the character opening the email instead of telling us about getting the email.

That was the other thing, I think she said that Ava disappeared, but then it sounded like she hadn't opened the email, and then she said it was an email from a ghost. The first thing I wondered is, how does she know Ava is dead? Maybe the email says she's dead, but I don't think even a teenager would suspend disbelief enough to believe it's really an email from a ghost rather than a real person messing with her.

I'd love to see what you do with this on rewrite, because it sounds like a really interesting premise. Good luck.

Emily said...

I agree with a lot of the comments that have already been posted, but I had one more...

While Nancy Drew as a lead in might draw in a lot of grown women in contemporary US, I would bet it will turn off a lot of teens. Nancy Drew is pretty much synonymous with out-dated and old-fashioned, and while I get mocking her might appeal to some teens, many more will see the name and close the book.

If this were chick-lit for adults or women's fiction, the lead in would be fine. But for contemporary teens? I have concerns it will turn off potential readers - even if mocking her - because she is just such a non-entity to many modern women and girls under 18. Ev en the mocking of her feels to me like an adult writing a teen than an actual teen.

But the concept is good, so good luck.

Sheila said...

I remember this from Miss Snark's First Victim Secret Agent contest. I really liked that entry, obviously, because I remembered it. You trimmed this down significantly and got to the contents of the email quicker, which was a good move. The email itself is very hook-y. Especially the "They'll hurt you," bit. Very spooky.

It's funny that what EA suggests - backing up and focusing on the surprise, is kind of what you did with the Secret Agent entry. Good instincts!

Merry Monteleone said...


I'm not so sure the Nancy Drew reference is that outdated - they just did a Nancy Drew movie for teens a few years ago with the girl who was on Unfabulous (which is pretty popular with middle schoolers). And I noticed when the movie was out that old Nancy Drew books were displayed more prominently at the book store... I know this because my mom bought my daughter a set :-) (She read one chapter and never touched the rest of them, but still :-)

But, on the writing end of things, I don't know that it's the best place for the character to start the story, either.

Megan said...

The issue I had with the opening line is quirky and nit-picky, none-the-less . . . Nancy is traditionally portrayed as somewhere between a red-head and a strawberry blonde. Simply describing her as a "perky blonde" makes me think you aren't really familiar with your topic. The fact that your character might make such an error because she doesn't give two cents about Nancy is irrelevant so early in a story. As a reader, I'm still evaluating the writer . . . I haven't had time to get lost in the plot or to begin believing in the narrator's world view.

BuffySquirrel said...

I'd have thought the narrator's first reaction would be to assume the email was spam. I get spam from myself all the time! So if an email arrived from someone I knew was dead, my first reaction would probably be fury at the spammers still faking their address.

Emily said...


Yeah, we saw the movie, and some kids seem to know it existed, especially in the tween and below set, but of the girls I know ages 10-16, none of them wanted anything to do with it.

The avid teen readers I know would likely put down a book they thought had anything to do with Nancy Drew. So, it's a risk. And maybe those girls who were 8-11 year olds when the movie was out and did like it would now be more receptive.

And, as always, I could be totally off on this point, but I think it still has the potential to turn off more readers than pull in from modern teens.

Deirdre Mundy said...

Maybe, if you MUST start with the "I never liked" you could do the more generic "I never liked mystery novels?"

Less dated, more broad?

Though, given that it's an email from a ghost, I'd be more inclined to start with "I never liked Horror stories."

librariank said...

I know I'm going to get killed for this, but I'm still stuck on the wine cooler. I don't think YA books should be alcohol-free, by any means, but it does seem to be a pretty early and (to me) gratuitous mention of it, especially considering how she goes into detail about what she's drinking and how it feels going down. I don't know her well enough yet to know what role drinking plays in her life, and it may well be important to the rest of your story, but if it isn't I personally don't think it should be used as just simple character action for a teenager...I think in YA books drinking and sex and all the "edginess" need to be used very intentionally. IMHO.

Anonymous said...

I actually don't like the alcohol bit, either. I'm fine with alcohol in YA novels; teenagers do tend to drink, after all. My problem is that it doesn't seem realistic here. The first bit about the stolen wine cooler in hand is fine. The rest is overkill.

Lisa and Laura said...

Thanks for all the comments! This is a very early version of our first 250 words and it has changed significantly through our many rounds of edits.

If you're interested in taking a look at the updated version, please click here:

Thanks for reading and commenting on our work!

Buffra said...

I like the changes made and the version on your blog. The hook of the story is still there, but more of the glitches are gone and it reads more smoothly. Nice.