Writing the Book Part II

As I journey with this book, Things You Forget, in person and sometimes on this blog, I want to remember this particular incident because it encourages me, and we all need a little encouragement, don’t we? It happened a while back, April 2017, to be exact.

I submitted to a first page critique by literary agent Holly McGhee at Pippin Properties on Kathy Temean’s wonderful Writing and Illustrating blog. I sent on a whim, not expecting any results. And then I forgot about it. When I finally remembered to check the status of my entry, I learned my first page had been selected.

The April 2017 results are here. My specific results are below. I know I’m going to come back to this moment as I try to stay centered and finish this book.

THINGS YOU FORGET by S. K. Van Zandt Young Adult

It’s late November and lousy cold. Wind mixed with sleet gusts across the parking lot. Jordan Rutherford crosses to his truck, yanks the door hard against the freezing blasts, and climbs in. Engines start around him. Headlights blink on. Cars pull slowly away from the church for the long drive to the cemetery. Jordan looks toward the front of the line at the white limo, a foggy stream of air pouring from its exhaust. His mother wants him to ride with her and his grandmother, but forget that. He wants to be alone.

He pulls in somewhere near the end of the line of cars, and they drive onto the main road. People steer their cars onto the crusty edge of the pavement to let them pass. Some stop completely. A little kid leans out the window of a parked car and smiles and waves, like he’s watching a parade or something. Jordan wants this to be over.

When he finally gets to Woodland Memorial Cemetery, a crowd has already gathered, huddled beneath a dark green funeral tent that bends with every burst of wind. Several friends from school hang at the edge of the crowd, including Jordan’s best friend, T. J. Bradley.

Jordan stands on a nearby hill, apart from everyone. He looks past the crowd, at the rows and rows of graves dotting the icy ground, then back to the funeral tent and the waiting grave beneath. If he narrows his eyes just right, everything blurs. As the pastor begins talking, Jordan walks back to his truck, climbs in, and drives away without looking back.



I was really moved by this one; it grabbed my attention and I wanted to know more about these characters and what Jordan’s role in the death was. I felt genuine emotion coming through the words. I think this is a strong first page. My only comment is to choose every word carefully, and where there is an opportunity for an appropriate extra detail, grab it. (I’m thinking of the line with the little kid leaning out the window, that seemed like a chance to add a telling detail and use fewer words as well.)




Okay, I haven’t blogged since the middle of October.  My excuse is that, in addition to a full-time day job (teaching),  I’ve been fretting over a revision request on a mg novel I’ve subbed.  Chipping away at the manuscript.  Slow-going but I’m still at it.  Whoever said, “Writing is rewriting,” knew what they were talking about.  Anyone can write; it’s rewriting that shapes and makes the story.  I liken it to having children.  Giving birth is the easy part.  

My first revision goal was Thanksgiving.  I’ve since moved it forward to post-holidays.  Sigh.  I wish my day job didn’t get in the way, but then, I probably work better under pressure.  Less time to procrastinate (although I still do – I am a veritable genie at procrastination.  In addition to the real pressures, I can pull more things out of thin air to keep me foolishly busy.) 

I continue to be surprised at this story as I revise.  Someone on the Blueboards called it “breaking open the manuscript.”  It’s just such a slow process for me.  Is it like that for everyone?  I’ve read and re-read the agent’s editorial letter and am trying to keep in mind the well-known advice to “edit with a feather,” but it’s hard.  At the same time, I’m missing working on my other mg story, which is in the first draft stage and lots more fun to work on.   

Warning – Rambling Thought here:  I am looking at signing up for the Vermont MFA program.  Thinking about the hours it would take each week to get through it…hmmm.  Any thoughts or advice?