Monday, November 12, 2012

1st 5 Pages November Workshop - Edwards Rev 1

Name: Dana Edwards
Genre: MG, 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.

“So far it stinks. Mom won’t trust me to stay home alone by myself so I have to come to work with her every day. I’m 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 Assisted Living and Nursing Home was the only place she could find a job.

I looked up and started counting the tiny holes in the hood of dryer when Amy said, “So, have your heard about the girl who’s here?”

“Is her name Haley Thayer and is she sitting right in front of you?” I asked. Where was I? Twenty-one, twenty-two…

“No, silly. Her name is Rachel and she’s 16. She was hit by a car. She’s been here for two months now.”

I shot up. “There’s another kid here? A girl? Where is she?” Summer is so looking up. I started thinking about all the things we could do—hang out, play cards, watch TV…

“She’s upstairs. She’s in a coma.”

“What? That’s awful. What happened?” I asked.

Amy sat beside me and leaned in close. “Well, there’s all sorts of stories, but I know this for a fact…the car that hit her…” She paused for effect. Amy lived for drama.

I leaned in closer to her. “Yessss?”

“It was driven by…bank robbers,” she said.

“Bank robbers? Really?” Amy was probably just trying to make my summer more interesting. I appreciated her effort.

“Well, that what I’ve heard. You should check it out.” Amy stood up and turned on the curling iron and hot rollers.

Maybe. But I had more important business. “Mom said I might be able to find some odd jobs around here. I’m saving up for a cell phone.” I 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.” Oops. “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

Bonnie 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.


  1. Hi A.C.,

    Thanks for the comment last week!

    I like how you worked in something about this new coma girl - very intriguing.

    A few things I thought of while reading:
    1) The first paragraph seemed to have some tense issues and felt a little long (super easy fix)
    2) I got disoriented during the last conversation when Amy's comment came after so much description of the Miss Essie
    3) There is a lot of info in these first few pages. Maybe there's a way to "trim the fat" and focus on introducing just the main characters arcs and plot points. That's ambiguous advice...sorry!

    Again, I love the protagonists voice. It's so 12 year old and super fun to read. Great flow - nice work!


  2. Hi Dana,

    Sorry I called you AC! I Just got confused by something and didn't realize my mistake!


  3. Hi Dana!
    I really like that you added a new character, aka coma girl. This definitely creates a different feel to your story. THere is still some confusion on my part with Hayley counting the holes in the dryer. Maybe you could add this counting more than once during the conversation. Another part that didn't feel right is during Amy's laughter. You have some form of laugh 3x in a row. Those are little things and I want you to know that I really enjoyed your revision!

  4. hi Dana!

    I liked this revision. I liked the addition of the coma girl, and Hayley's initial excitement to meet her, and the hint of the robbery.

    Hayley's voice and snarkiness are great. With her excitement mixed in, her complaining didn't seem too much for me anymore.

    Like Amy, I was confused by the counting and had to reread to figure out what was going on.

    Otherwise, I wanted you to slow down a little. You cover a lot of ground in these 5 pages: stuck for the summer, Amy backstory, goal to earn money, coma girl, bad luck cat, Miss Essie... It's all really interesting (and some strike me as pretty key to the story too), which meant I wanted you to spend a little more time on each and not move on to the next thing so quickly.

    Good work and happy writing!

  5. Hi Dana,

    I see that I was dead wrong with where you were going with this before, so great job on introducing the girl and the bank robbery. Overall, I really like the idea of the addition, but several things aren't ringing true for me here. One, the opening paragraph reads like she's been at the nursing home for a while. That being the case, it seems as though she would have heard about the girl already. The transition in and out of that needs to be smoother, as does the bridge between the first paragraph and the second. Situating herself closer to the beauty parlor and farther from the dining hall doesn't bring us "into" the beauty parlor logically.

    Like the others, I am now having trouble focusing my attention. The food is funny, but it is a gimmick, and I'm not sure that you couldn't use the cat instead, thereby making it more organic. If she's watching the cat, trying to figure out where it's going--you show her to us as an investigator and we'd have a better sense of what kind of a story we were going to be dealing with. Especially if you have her sniff with interest at the mention of a bank robbery. Now we'd have a heroine who was active, engaging, AND funny. As it is, we have one who is passive and funny. The first kind is more fun to read--just a thought. However you choose to do it, however, you're going to distill this and shine the spotlight where you want us to be looking. I also felt, this time around, as though the introduction of how Amy got to the nursing home was perhaps a bit too much info that we didn't need--and that she didn't seem to necessarily be the kind of girl to care about. Give that some thought, and if it is in her character, then make sure that character is consistent throughout.

    Otherwise, I still really enjoy this. The voice is great. It's just a matter of picking what's important.



  6. Thanks for your comments, all! Revising is tough work!

    Martina, the food is important because that's where Haley will get her business idea. She'll bring in contraband (cookies and chips) and sell them to the residents. In chapter 2, the reader sees that this is Haley's 3rd summer to be at the facility so she is very familiar with the long-standing workers and residents.

    Your point is well taken - maybe I'm trying to introduce too much in the beginning. I'm not sure what to delay. You've all given me a lot to think about.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  7. I really enjoyed this, it drew me right in. I've very curious about the girl in the coma. You have an engaging voice and your dialogue reads very natural. I especially like the Amy character.

    I know that cat, though, and his name is Oscar. He's the real deal and lives at the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Rhode Island. I remember reading an article about how he's able to predict the impending death of terminally ill patients. The explanation was that the cat can smell the biochemicals released by dying cells.

    Just a suggestion, but in regards to the cat you might want to reference the factual story, as in "Mr. Whiskers is like that famous cat Oscar." Or something like that.

    Good luck with this!