Mar 16, 2012

Chasing a Dream

by Debra Erfert

Coming in 2nd place shouldn’t bug me so much. I know this intellectually. I’m a smart lady. I graduated summa cum laude from college. But being smart and playing it smart are two different things. I should’ve had my first page critiqued before I sent it into the 1st annual ANWA BOB Awards contest, and then maybe I would’ve received the few extra points I needed to get that coveted 1st place instead of placing 2nd. Sigh . . .

Friday, January 6th, the mysterious Ms. Shreditor (a national editor incognito) gave my first page a professional critique over on Julie Coulter Bellon’s blog, LDS Writer Mom. Every Friday she puts up a submission and has either Ms. Shreditor critique it, or on the last Friday of the month Angela Eschler, a national editor, (Google her. You'll be impressed) take her turn at analyzing the submitted first page. I was brave enough to send in my current WIP. I only wish I had sent it in sooner. 

If you would like your first page critiqued by a national editor, then click HERE and go on over to my friend Julie’s blog and be prepared for a no-holds-barred evaluation of your work. Oh, and you can stay anonymous if you wish.  As you can see, I chose to put my name under the title.

Send in your submissions to with First Page Friday in the Subject Line.
I also submitted another first page just this past week. It’s a new WIP. Yes, it is perfectly acceptable to be working on more than one manuscript at the same time! Sheesh . . . I will give you a heads-up when it’s published on LDS Writer Mom so you can rush over and leave a comment. (Oh, please, oh, please!)

The Entry
Bucket List of Hope
by Debra Erfert

“I changed my mind!”

The tornado-like wind tore the panicked words from my lips the moment I spoke them. The plane’s open door, where the experienced skydivers already jumped from, looked innocent enough when six grown men sat between IT and me. But now the huge, gaping hole seemed monstrously evil. It laughed at me, like it knew my irrational terror as I stared down at the geometric patches of green and brown landscape with my stomach crammed up my throat. I moved to grab the doorframe. The diving instructor attached to my back had other ideas.

We fell from 13,000 feet.

The icy wind stabbed at my skin, keeping me from passing out. I had no choice but to greet death with my eyes open—head on. I looked up. A man from the dive company pointed to his helmet and then waved. My brain clicked on. I paid extra money to have my first experience recorded. With my face pushed back into a perpetual, flapping sudo-smile by the freefall wind, I waved back at the guy. He gave me a thumbs-up sign. I gestured him right back.

Jerry, or Gary, my over-enthusiastic diving instructor, took hold of my wrist and led my fist to a ball. I unclenched my hand and pulled. My backpack fell apart—and then swooshed . . . our parachute opened, stopping our freefall into a gentle descent. That intense fear of dying I had for the past sixty-seconds vanished, and just like that I remembered everything they briefed me on in the pre-jump class.

Above my head, I grabbed the steering toggles in my fists and gently pulled down on the right. I laughed, as we turned clockwise. I tried turning in the other direction. No problem. My heart raced, beating with a freedom that escaped my tenuous grasp for the twenty-seven years of my life.

Ms. Shreditor's Comments

It seems we’re off to a great start this year. This week’s sample definitely has my attention. Opening with dialogue can be a risky maneuver, but in this case, it’s quite effective.

I often take first pages to task for not telling us enough about the narrator, but in this case, the sparse characterization works. The page-turning action generates plenty of momentum on its own. We don’t know anything about this narrator, but we can infer certain things from cues in the text. The voice strikes me as female. If I had to guess, I’d say that this opening scene signifies a moment of real empowerment for a previously inhibited young woman. The story tells us that, at age twenty-seven, the narrator never done anything like this.

Be careful with past tense. There are a few instances of the simple past (“verbed”) that should be expressed in past perfect (“had [verb]ed”). Examples: 1) “…where the experienced divers had already jumped from,” 2) “That intense fear of dying I’d had for the past sixty seconds…,” 3) “I had paid extra money to have my first experience recorded,” and 4) “…a freedom that had escaped my tenuous grasp for the twenty-seven years of my life.” In each of these instances, you’re describing something that happened before something else, so use of the past perfect is necessary.

There are other minor syntactic hiccups that a light copyedit would resolve. But the author accomplishes something important here: natural prose rhythm (thanks to varied sentence length). I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: It shows when an author reads his/her work aloud.

One last question: Did you mean “pseudo-smile” instead of “sudo-smile”? Just checking!

Ms. Shreditor is very sensitive to the writer's feelings when she does her critiquing, thank goodness, but she does get her point across. Yes, it would’ve been very helpful if I would have had this critique before I sent my entry in to the BOB contest, then maybe I would have placed 1st instead of 2nd.  This is what happens when we are too anxious to submit before our manuscripts are ready. This wasn't ready yet. It still isn't. But I do have that gut full of excitement knowing that I'm very close to fulfilling my dream.  


  1. I remember this. I love your voice. I'm with you on the second place. Last year I entered the LDStorymakers first chapter contest and tied for second place. The real treasure was in the critiques.

  2. Wow, Debra! Thank you for sharing that wonderful first page and the critique! I love your voice, and I enjoyed reading what Ms Shreditor had to say. very cool.

  3. Great description, Debra. Now I have a better feel for my daughter's accomplishment last year when she jumped from a plane over in New Zealand. She had grown up with lots of fears, too.

    And thanks for the info about Ms. Shreditor. A great resource!

  4. I truly hope that several of my ANWA sisters will take advantage of Ms. Shreditor's critiquing. It's a great opportunity!

    @ Janice, last year at Storymakers, I won 3rd place in the first chapter contest for a paranormal. I guess I am moving up in that aspect. I did get great feedback, too. I couldn't afford to go to both conferences. Maybe if they were spaced out further apart in time . . .

    @ Kari, thank you for you kind words. I've worked hard to make my voice unique. I'm glad its come through. I do love Ms. Shreditor, too. Someday I'd like to know who the woman is behind the mask. Then again, maybe its a fella?

    @ Tanya, someday, I may even jump from a plane--naw, only kidding. I got my invaluable information from two dear friends who went skydiving about a month before I wrote that scene, when the sights and sounds, and especially the sensations were so fresh in their minds. You should be amazed at your daughter's accomplishments. She's very brave!


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