Monday, February 18, 2013

1st 5 Pages February Workshop - Balter Rev 2

Name: Steve Balter
Genre: YA Contemporary 14 & up

I wish I could fly.

Maybe if I just close my eyes tight enough. Maybe then I can run away, fly away.

I try.

I squeeze so hard I think they might burst.

But I can’t escape−−−the smell, the heat, the flesh.

They’re so damn heavy.

They smother me.

He smothers me.

The metal bedframe creaks in rhythm and I focus on the beat, plead for it to quicken, to signal that the end is near.

A drip of sweat hits my shoulder, violating me in a way that somehow feels worse. I try to tilt, to let it run, to get it off of me. I can’t, and it burns a hole in my skin.

“Do you like it, Baby?”

I wonder if he has a daughter. Does he call her Baby, too?

I hear a siren in the distance. It gets louder, closer. I can see the glow from the blue and red lights as they speed by outside the motel window. They don’t stop for me.

He shudders, and it’s over.

He rolls off, and I can breathe.

He gets dressed, and I can live.

He throws money on the nightstand, and I can eat.

The door slams shut and I lie still, staring up at the cracked ceiling that blocks my view to heaven. I wonder what it’s like.

I guess now I’ll never know.


I curl up on the green sofa at The Beat Coffeehouse on Fremont, the same as I have every morning for the past eight months, but it’s not the same. Nothing’s the same. Even the coffee tastes different, more acidic. Everyone’s staring at me, judging me like there’s a fire-branded ‘W’ on my forehead:


I grab my knees and pull tight, get as small as I can. The shame feels too familiar−−−and this time I deserve it. My dad used to tell me I deserved it then, but I knew he was lying. I can’t lie to myself.

“Annie, you okay?”

Beth, one of the waitresses, is standing in front of me. I realize I’ve been crying, “Yeah,” I say.

“You sure?” Her silver eyebrow piercing catches a glint of light as it lifts.

“Yeah, thanks.”

Beth hands me a napkin and turns away. She walks over to a table nearby and places her hand on the shoulder of the guy sitting there.

“Can I get you anything else?” she asks. Her hand squeezes, just a little.

He smiles at her in a way that makes me sure her tip just got bigger.

I duck my head and open my Webster’s dictionary. It’s one of the only things I brought with me when I ran away. My handwriting is on the inside cover and the looping script looks so innocent. I was twelve when I wrote it. I can still hear my seventh grade teacher, Ms. Mahoney, lecturing us: “A strong vocabulary is the foundation for success. The words you choose define you. So choose them wisely.”

I believed her then, and I’ve studied every day since, building my foundation for success. But right now, I’m not sure anymore, about anything. I flip to a random page. One word sticks out: Alone. What are the odds of opening to that page? One in two hundred and twenty-nine actually, point four three percent.

Alone: adjective \ə-ˈlōn\, separated from others.

Here’s a new definition for you, Merriam.

Alone: noun \ə-ˈlōn\, Annie, sixteen-year-old-girl−−−mother dead, father an abusive asshole−−−living on the streets of Vegas with no friends, no money and now turning tricks to survive.

That’s frickin’ alone.

I usually spend all morning here at The Beat, but today I can’t sit still. I feel like if I keep moving maybe I can outrun my thoughts. I grab my backpack and sneak out into the dry desert heat. I walk down the sidewalk, trying to focus on the people, the cars, anything else. But I can’t stop thinking about it. And damn it, I can’t stop crying. It’s kind of ridiculous. I mean seriously, what did I expect?

The money, seventy-five lousy bucks, is folded up in my front pocket and the corner digs into my thigh with each step. It disgusts me. Are his fingerprints still on it? I think for a moment about throwing it in the trashcan on the corner. But I need it. And that would make what I did even worse.

I head north on Las Vegas Boulevard, following my normal route to the public library. It’s a great place to get out of the midday heat, to get lost in the stacks, and the stories. I love to read; to be transported to different places, different times. I turn the corner and stop for a second, looking up at the stone building. The front steps are like St. Peter, guarding the Pearly Gates.

Sugar is sitting on the top one, waiting for me, her plastic platform shoes on the step next to her.

“You’re early, Sweetness,” she says.

“I know.”

It’s true. I usually get here around lunchtime, but it’s only 10:30. Sugar knows me so well. I met her not too long after I got to Vegas. She’s the only person I trust.

“It’s not like you.” She smiles and her gold teeth reflect the unfiltered sun.

I flop down next to her and throw my pack to the side. “No, it’s not.”

She reaches over and takes my face in her hands, turning it toward her.

“You been cryin’?” Her calluses scratch against my cheeks and the tips of her long fingernails rest on my temples.


“What for?”

It’s a simple question. But the answer seems so complicated. My lip quivers. I feel the tears well up and then Sugar’s face blurs. I blink and they run down my cheeks.

“I… I did it last night. I needed the money.”

“Oh, Sweetness.”

I collapse into her arms and she grabs me−−−holds me so tight I melt into her body. Her soft lips kiss the top of my head.

I’m shaking, tears pouring out of me.

“I’m so sorry, Sugar. Oh God, I’m so sorry.”

She cradles me, rocking me back and forth like a little baby.

“Me too, Child. Sweet Jesus, me too.”


  1. Steve, I think you've done an amazing job revising. I am SO emotionally with Annie, and you did that by stretching out the moment and focusing on placing the reader in that oh-so-horrifyingly difficult moment with her. Bravo.
    So much of your revision has been forward progress- I think for me the only spot I would reconsider here is the definition of Annie - it took me out of the moment and seemed "tell-y" here: "--mother dead, father an abusive asshole−−−living on the streets of Vegas with no friends, no money and now turning tricks to survive."
    Personally, I don't know if you need to use that definition at all, but I would consider honing it down to a more subtle piece of information if you do decide to keep it.
    Thank you so much for sharing this with me - it takes a lot of courage to do that with a single crit partner, and doing it in the forum was amazingly brave. Hooray for you! Now finish this novel - I for one can't wait to read it.

    1. Nikki,
      Thank you for your kind words and for taking the time to do this workshop. I promise I will get this done. Annie deserves nothing less :) Congratulations on your success and best of luck with all your future endeavors.


  2. Love this!! Only two things:

    1. More on Sugar. As in the only detail you give to us about her is her platform shoes. Annie has really sharp, short narrative that packs a punch, but I think you can still include a few more details to make it easier to picture the two of them together.

    2. When Annie notices the man's smile -> ducking her head. That was a bit of a fast transition for me. She judges the smile, but how does she feel about that? Does the man remind her of her night? Why does she duck her head?

    (I do wonder what made Annie think this was her only option if she hates it and feels that guilty.)

    :) Nice job!

    1. **Sorry, there's also the gold teeth, calluses, and long fingernails, but I still want more/have a hard time picturing her. (Maybe even a comparison to Annie? So I can picture her too?)

  3. Wow! What a good job you did here. You made me cry! You get stars for that.

    I agree with the others about Sugar's description although I can picture her because of her speech and her kindness. Kudos there.

    I agree with Nikki about Annie's definition of herself although I love that it fits with her astounding knowledge of the dictionary. A small redo - not so on the nose - maybe what she wishes she were like because we get from the context that last night was her first time and how horrible it was and why she did it. I liked the way you described her home life in the last revision. It was knife sharp.

    And the best part of this revision was not only that VOICE! But the way you introduce why she knows the dictionary. It sounds totally believable.

    I think that if you continue the entire book in this way you will have quite an astounding thing on your hands.

  4. Oh wow, this is so different from the last version! This is much more tender and less angry and jaded. I feel a lot more sorry for her now. I think it helps that it's not quite as stream-of-consciousness.

    I don't really have many crits, because I think you've just about nailed it. It's clear, there's no more jumping back and forth in time, and I feel her anguish now. Great job!

  5. WOW. Now that's a revision!! I couldn't stop reading. Only ONE thing pulled me out and that was "She was the only one I could trust." Or some such telly line. ;D Show us her feelings when she sees Sugar. Show us she's the one she trusts. Other than that it was ah may zing.

  6. Nikki and Lisa nailed the lines that didn't work for me, and i agree about remembering to give us descriptions of characters as we meet them. I hit that with the waitress originally too, but I loved what you did there. You are great at choosing details that speak to the inner character as well as the outer person.

    I remain floored by this, Steve. It was so worth the painful hours you spent, and I was serious about what I said earlier. This is going to be a big book if you keep this up. I am so happy that we got to play some small part in it! I love your courage in tackling this. I LOVE this! I love it.

    1. I'm excited to try to complete this story and hopefully it can be something special. But what I already know is special is this website. Thank you for providing this forum and thank you all for your amazing insights.

      And Martina, it is no small part. I wouldn't have ever gone where I've gone so far without your perfect sense of what this story needed to be, and how it needed to be told. I don't think I can thank you enough. Nikki was right, you are one smart woman! (and don't think I won't be bugging you once in a while when I have no idea where to go next :D )

      Best to all of you,

  7. You've made Annie much more sympathetic now. She's distinctly less angry and perhaps a little more hurt or in touch with her pain than in prior drafts.

    The voice is extremely compelling, but I personally fear that for sensitive readers, the pain level might be a bit high. I think the mystery of the pool of blood from the first draft gives us something to try to grasp, and propels us forward. I slowed down a little reading this version because I'm just so sad for her! My personal biased opinion is that I'd like some promise that the reward for reading on won't be to see Annie (name change suits the new attitude) get hurt more and more and more. So I think it would be good to have some ups in the next chapter to temper the downs a bit. Purely subjective.

    In this context the definition of "alone" seems uncharacteristically harsh, as she is pretty soft through the rest of the narrative.

    I applaud you for tackling such difficult subject matter. You have the skills to tell this story -- wherever the story goes I suspect a lot of readers will follow with bated breath!

    Great work!

  8. Well... I just wanted to say email me when it's pubbed! ;)