Monday, November 5, 2012

1st 5 Pages November Workshop - Edwards

Name: Dana Edwards
Genre: Middle Grade, contemporary
Title: The Summer I Started a Business, Solved a Bank Robbery, and Showed Up on Cajun Pawn Stars

Chapter 1

The smell from the kitchen was putrid. If I had to eat that stuff every day, I’d start a riot or something. Tapioca, creamed peas, not-quite-sturdy jello. Yuck. Wednesdays were a tiny bit better—swiss steak, green beans, and rice pudding. That menu was definitely geared toward the residents with teeth. But today was Tuesday so I’d situate myself closer to the Beauty Parlor and further from the Dining Hall.

“Hey, Haley. How’s your summer going?” Amy asked as she balanced the box of beauty supplies on her hip while unlocking the parlor door. I never understood why there were so many locked doors in Southside Gardens Assisted Living where Mom worked as a nurse, but Amy said she didn’t want to be responsible for any death-by-scissors type of accident.

“So far it stinks. Mom won’t trust me to stay home alone by myself so it looks like I’ll be stuck here all summer.” Amy almost fell in when the door gave way. “Is she afraid you’ll burn the house down?”

I followed her in and plopped down in the first pink chair with the hair dryer attached to it. “No. She’s afraid I’ll spend my whole summer in front of the TV watching Cajun Pawn Stars. I told her that wasn’t even possible seeing how Cajun Pawn Stars only comes on a couple of times a week, but as you can see, I’m here.” I pushed the buttons. ON. OFF. COOL. OFF.

Amy put on her smock and started mixing the hair dye in her little wooden bowl. “This place isn’t so bad. I mean, I’m here.”

The truth was Amy was stuck too. She was here because she couldn’t get hired anywhere else. After she graduated from cosmetology school, her mom’s friend gave her a job at an exclusive salon in Midtown where all the rich clients from Atlanta paid at least $100 for a cut and blow-dry and another $100 for color. Amy didn’t like to talk about it, but let’s just say the mayor’s wife didn’t look good in blue. Hair, that is. Anyway, Southside Gardens was the only place she could find a job.

“Mom said I might be able to find some odd jobs around here. I’m saving up for a cell phone.” I sat up in the chair and straightened the stack of magazines on the table beside me. “That’s what I wanted to talk to you about. Is there anything I can do to help you? For money, that is?”

“Hum, let’s see. I guess I could use a shampoo girl. Are you interested in that?” Amy asked.

“Gross. No. I can’t stick my hands in other people’s hair.” Then I realized what I’d said. “No offense. I was thinking something more like, sweeping or helping the old ladies out of their wheelchairs and walkers and into the chairs. Or…I could go through your magazines and toss out the old ones.” I lifted the Southern Living and looked at the date. “See, this one right here is four months old. The main article is about traveling to some tulip farm when the ladies should be reading about taking trips to the beach.”

“I don’t really think any of our residents are planning trips to the beach.” Amy separated the medium sized perm rollers from the small ones. “Housekeeping sweeps for me and the nursing assistants help the ladies in and out of their chairs. What about manicures? How do you feel about painting other people’s nails?”

“Is painting inside the lines required?” I asked, although I was pretty sure I knew the answer.

“Sort of. Why don’t you ask Chef Michael if he has a job for you?” Amy asked.

“The Dining Hall? Barf. I wouldn’t step foot in there if my life…” The door pushed open and the most popular resident of Southside Gardens sashayed in.

“Well, hello there Mr. Whiskers.” Amy bent down to pet him.

“I hate that cat,” I said. Mr. Whiskers rubbed against Amy’s legs. “He’s like the Grim Reaper.”

“Are you still on that?” Amy asked. She looked at her calendar for the day.

“Mom doesn’t believe me either, but it’s true. Whenever Mr. Whiskers spends the night on a resident’s bed, that resident ends up dead the next day. It’s a proven fact. It’s like he has a sixth sense or something.” Just then, he hopped up on my lap. I refused to pet him, but he stayed there anyway. “Great. I’m glad I’m not spending the night.”

“Last summer, I saw him sleeping on Mr. Fairbanks’ bed and the next morning, he was gone,” I continued.

“Where’d he go?” she asked.

“He was DEAD, Amy. That’s what I’m trying to tell you. Either Mr. Whiskers can tell who’s going to die and he throws one last farewell slumber party or Mr. Whiskers is somehow murdering the residents.”

Amy laughed. She snorted when she laughed and that always made me laugh. Amy wrote the names of the ladies who were getting their hairdos done that morning on the dry erase board.

Essie Smith 9:30

Betsy Williams 10:30

Lilia Hendrix 11:30

I wanted to be sure I was long gone before Miss Essie showed up for her appointment. Sometimes she mistook me for her daughter, Katherine. I could understand the confusion. Katherine was probably 65 by now; I was twelve. Katherine most likely was a grandmother herself and lived in Michigan where Miss Essie was from; I was in middle school and lived in a suburb of Atlanta. Yeah, it was like we were almost twins.

Mom explained that Miss Essie, like lots of the old folks in the nursing home, had periods of dementia. That’s where you get confused and forget stuff like what you had for breakfast or where you put your teeth or that your daughter is now 65.

It was always awkward when I was around Miss Essie. When she called me Katherine, I never knew if I should correct her or just play along. Mom told me to do what felt right at that moment, but to be kind and patient. It was easier to just avoid being in the same room as her.

Amy drew fancy pink and yellow flowers and green vines around all the names on the board. “I guess the fact that Mr. Fairbanks was 98 and in poor health had nothing to do with his death,” she said.

“Just you wait. My mission this summer is to get a cell phone and prove my theory.” I nudged Mr. Whiskers with my elbow until he hopped on the floor. “Who’s your next victim?” He stretched his front paws out and arched his back. I called out, “I’m gonna keep an eye on you, cat,” as he walked out the door.

Chapter 2

I sat in the lobby and contemplated other ways to make some money while I ate a snack. Clyde, the person in charge of Housekeeping, clunked by and started picking up and folding sections of the newspaper. He placed them on the coffee table in front of me and finally noticed that I was sitting there. “Oh hi, Haley. You hangin’ with us this summer?”

“Yeah. I’m back for my third tour of duty,” I answered.

Clyde dusted the lamp shade on the end table. “Sure beats Afghanistan.”

Clyde stopped and looked at me. “Sorry, Haley. Have you heard from him lately?”

Clyde knew about Afghanistan. He served two tours there when he was in the Marines.


  1. Hi Dana,

    What fun! Your opening 1250 words were funny, really set the scene, and your character is so easy to relate to even though I find her very unique. She's not the type of girl I've read about a million times before - great job avoiding cliches.

    I'd like a little better feel of what the characters look like however - I realize now I'm just imagining Hayley as looking like me as a 12 year old!

    I think the title combined with the first few pages definitely set up the story. Also, I love how you seamlessly added in a new story line in chapter two - you gave me as the reader a lot of great stuff to look forward to.


  2. hi Dana,
    I enjoyed this. Your MC is smart and observant. It'll be fun to spend a book with her.

    I did worry that she might be a tiny bit too complainy (gummy food, sutck all summer, eww touch heads, can't paint within lines). In particular I wanted a sign that she was adventurous enough for your very fun title.

    A (small and fixable) thing that needled me was the paragraph starting "The truth was Amy was stuck too..." How would Hayley know this about Amy?

    Thanks for sharing.


  3. Dana,
    First if all, I love yr title! That is what first grabbed my attention, what with the Cajun Pawn Stars and all! The easy relationship Amy and Haley have is apparent in the very beginning and I find myself totally liking them both. At first I wondered where you were going with the gross food combos, but that was quickly explained in a way that made me want to read more. Great strong beginning.

  4. Great set up! I love Haley's tone, her constant complaining, all of it. Other than finding something to do with her summer, I'm not getting a super strong sense of direction yet. While your TITLE lays out a clear game plan for the book, the prose hasn't done that yet. Typically you have ONE chapter to grab a reader and ONE page to grab an editor--so make it count and sign me up for a story I can't put down.

    But otherwise, this is a fantastic middle grade voice. I can just imagine the adventures Haley will have!

    Love the subtle touch on the Afghanistan/service family member subplot. Very deft.


  5. Hi! Love the MG voice and the set up. I've heard of the real life story with the cat. Here's one thing that I'd like you to work on: "I never understood why there were so many locked doors in Southside Gardens Assisted Living where Mom worked as a nurse" That's an info dump. You and I wouldn't talk or think like that. I'm sitting in my family room where I live with my three kids and... Yeah. You have to find a more interesting way to fit in those bits of info. Like the Afghanistan thing - would she be giving us the other guy's experience there or feeling her own feelings about her dad or whoever is over there? Really put yourself in her head. I did like the details about the hairdresser and the blue hair - great humor and great touch! Can't wait to see your homework!

  6. Hi Dana,

    Love this. Love it. Is learning to cope with her father being in Afghanistan the main part of her character journey? If so, I love it even more -- I can totally get her anger because she's worried.

    I wonder if you could use Clyde to solve the infodump problem and build sympathy for her a little bit more quickly? Maybe just rearranging the sequence of events to have him meet her before she goes into the salon? If you introduce the cat right then too in some way, then your overall setup -- internal and external journeys are brought in sooner. Unless I'm completely misreading where you're going?

    I'm sure looking forward to finding out!



  7. Thanks, all, for your comments and encouragement! You've given me lots to think about.

    It's quite possible that I have too many subplots. Haley's dad is in Afghanistan and she is worried about him, but that's only a minor plot.

    The main plot is that she will meet (in chapter 4)"The General" (who served in the Korean War). Haley, the General, and Miss Essie (the one with Alzheimer's) join forces to solve a bank robbery. (One of the residents has some clues that the three of them stumble upon.)

    I hear you on the infodump, and I can work on that. Is there enough "action" in these early pages?

  8. Love the voice! I was wondering about Amy's relation to the MC and what Cajun Pawn Stars was (I assume it's a show but I've never seen it) so maybe hint at that.

    My main question about this scene would be why it's the first one. What's particularly significant about this moment that it's the one you've chosen to bring the reader into the MC's life? It's a little more difficult to hook people with everyday scenes for the MC, so you could keep that in mind.

    Sidenote - I'm so sorry for posting late. My home internet's been on the fritz ever since the hurricane, and apparently it ate my posts earlier.

    Enjoyed reading,