Friday, January 22, 2010

Opening Pages That Caught Our Attention

STATUS: I didn’t even get to tackle the contracts I wanted to.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SNOW by Loreena McKennitt

As I mentioned on yesterday’s blog, both Kate and I wanted the attendees to hear some openings that worked, so we brought in the opening 2 pages from clients we had signed.

And today, I’m going to share those openings with you.

First up, the opening 2 pages from Janice Hardy’s THE SHIFTER. HarperCollins published this debut novel in September 2009. New authors often have to revise before publication but these were the original opening two pages when I saw the submission. They did not change for publication.


Stealing eggs is a lot harder than stealing the whole chicken. With chickens, you just grab a hen, stuff her in a sack and make your escape. But for eggs, you have to stick your hand under a sleeping chicken. Chickens don’t like this. They wake all spooked and start pecking holes in your arm, or your face, if it’s close. And they squawk something terrible.

The trick is to wake the chicken first, then go for the eggs. I’m embarrassed to say how long it took me to figure this out.

“Good morning little hen,” I sang softly. The chicken blinked awake and cocked her head at me. She didn’t get to squawking, just flapped her wings a bit as I lifted her off the nest, and she’d settle down once I tucked her under my arm. I’d overheard that trick from a couple of boys I’d unloaded fish with last week.

A voice came from beside me. “Don’t move.”

Two words I didn’t want to hear with someone else’s chicken under my arm.
I froze. The chicken didn’t. Her scaly feet flailed toward the eggs that should have been my breakfast. I looked up at a cute night guard not much older than me, perhaps sixteen. The night was more humid than usual, but a slight breeze blew his sand-pale hair. A soldier’s cut, but a month or two grown out.

Stay calm, stay alert. As Grannyma used to say, if you’re caught with the cake, you might as well offer them a piece. Not sure how that applied to chickens though.

“Join me for breakfast when your shift ends?” I asked. Sunrise was two hours away.

He smiled, but aimed his rapier at my chest anyway. Was nice to have a handsome boy smile at me in the moonlight, but his was a sad, sorry-only-doing-my-job smile. I’d learned to tell the difference between smiles a lot faster than I’d figured out the egg thing.

“So, Heclar,” he said over his shoulder, “you do have a thief. Guess I was wrong.”

Rancher Heclar strutted into view, bearing an uncanny resemblance to the chicken trying to peck me—ruffled, sharp beaked, and beady eyed. He harrumphed and set his fists against his hips. “I told you crocodiles weren’t getting them.”

“I’m no chicken thief,” I said quickly.

“Then what’s that?” The night guard flicked his rapier tip toward the chicken and smiled again. Friendlier this time, but his deep brown eyes had twitched when he bent his wrist.

“A chicken.” I blew a stray feather off my chin and peered closer. His knuckles were white from too tight a grip on so light a weapon. That had to mean joint pain, maybe even knuckleburn, though he was far too young for it. The painful joint infection usually hit older dockworkers. I guess that’s why he had a crummy job guarding chickens instead of aristocrats. My luck hadn’t been too great either.

“Look,” I said, “I wasn’t going to steal her. She was blocking the eggs.”

The night guard nodded like he understood and turned to Heclar. “She’s just hungry. Maybe you could let her go with a warning?”

“Arrest her you idiot! She’ll get fed in Dorsta.”

Dorsta? I gulped. “Listen, two eggs for breakfast is hardly worth prison—”

“Thieves belong in prison!”

From Kate Schafer Testerman:
This is the opening page (or so) from Julia Karr's XVI, which will be published by Speak (Puffin) in Spring 2011. Here is Julia's website and I actually blogged her original query letter just a few weeks ago.

Chapter One

“Nina, look.” Sandy jabbed me in the ribs.

I glanced up at the AV screen expecting to see the latest vert of back to school fashion for sixteens.

“No, there.” Sandy jerked my arm, bringing my attention to the doorway.

Four guys approached us, lurching and swaying through the moving express. They sat across the aisle, immediately crowding together in a knot. A low buzz of unintelligible words, accompanied by the occasional rowdy snort, rose from their cluster.

“They’re eighteen,” she whispered. “I bet it’s that one’s birthday.”

By the way he kept admiring the tattoo on his wrist and fingering the band-aid behind his ear, I knew she was right. I involuntarily touched my own GPS. The tiny grain-sized pellet imbedded beneath the skin barely registered on my fingertips. What would it be like to be able to go some place where no one could track you?

Before my thoughts went any further down that path, Sandy said, “They’re going into the city to celebrate. I wish—”

“No, you don’t.” My stomach turned at the thought of eighteenth celebrations. I’d heard all about them, particularly the Angel affair. I quickly blocked the images from my mind.

Sandy “humphed” back into the seat, crossing her arms over her chest. “Those stories aren’t true. They’re made up to scare us. Guys wouldn’t do stuff like that. I mean, look at them…” She leaned towards me conspiratorially, but I saw her peeking at the boys from under her bangs. “Someone that cute could never do those kinds of things.”

One of them, not the birthday boy, noticed us. He ogled Sandy the way I’d seen her stepdad do when he thought no one was watching. I grabbed her wrist and thrust it toward him, showing the absence of the obligatory XVI tattoo. He shrugged and turned back to his friends.

“Hey!” She pulled her arm away from me. “He was going to talk to me.”

“It’s not talk he wants. Sandy, those stories aren’t all made up. Ginnie said that ever since they started the tattooing, girls aren’t safe. She thinks that—”

“Yeah, well, your mom doesn’t trust anything the government does.”

She was right. Ginnie didn’t talk much about her views on the Governing Council, but when she did, there was no mistaking that she loathed them.

Sandy snatched a retractable zine chip from the rack on the back of the seat in front of her. She let go and it snapped back in place. She grabbed another, doing the same thing. If she’d reached for a third, I would’ve stopped her. Sometimes I felt more like Sandy’s mother than her best friend.

Her mood suddenly changed, which it often does thank goodness. “Scoot over,” she said. “We’re almost to that big farm and I want to see the cows. Can you believe people used to eat meat? Makes me want to puke just thinking about it.”

Sandy’s almost as crazy about cows as she is about boys. And, she’s never mad at me for too long. I’m sure that’s how come we’ve stayed best friends.