Monday, March 11, 2013

1st 5 Pages March Workshop - Harris-Brady Rev1

Heather Harris-Brady
Contemporary Middle Grade Mystery
The Mis(s)fits: All That Glitters

“I am here, my dear, to offer you the chance of a lifetime.”

Like the back of a very old hand reaching from beyond the grave, you could see the spidery blue veins of handwriting through the waxy yellow paper.

“To my new young tenant,

If you are reading this then it is at least 2014 and you shall be the next girl to live in my house, which pleases me very much. It is likely haunted but by the living not the dead. I left a great treasure for you along with what I fear is a great responsibility. You cannot accept one without the other. It's waiting for a clever girl who uses both her heart and her head. Being the sentimental old biddy I am I hope you will also find love during your search as I did during mine.

Although I have never lacked for imagination I cannot picture what your world must be. Perhaps all girls are free to learn, work and find their own happiness. If, however, the past is still vanishing in White Birch Cove there's no time to waste. Once the house is open the Triangle vultures will begin to circle. Start at the museum with my quilt. Death is so terribly inconvenient, it’s your turn now. Mabel Caylor”

A few residents of White Birch Cove had good reason to suspect Mabel Caylor had been a spy. Certainly she knew one is not always in the mood to say yes to the chance of a lifetime – especially when one is a twelve-year-old girl.

Chapter One: A New Season, A New Vision

On Saturday June 21 Mother Nature sent a cotton-sundress day down Manhattan’s runway – pure sunshine and happiness, but in the back room of a boutique on Central Park West one sixth-grade designing duo was ripping apart at the seams.

“I guess that’s everything,” Celia Narro said, running her fingers along the silver nailhead trim on the back of her pink velvet chair. Narshan headquarters consisted of two velvet chairs (one pink and one purple), two silver nameplates (Aracelia Francisca Narro – Accessory Designer, Indira Devi Prabshan – Jewelry Designer), and two lifelong best friends with matching mirrored desks. One desk now stood empty beside several overflowing boxes as the relaxing hum of shopping floated back from the front of the Prabshans’ boutique.

“Are you sure you don’t want any of these pictures?” Indira said, waving at the wall of designer portraits. Chanel, Westwood, Rodriguez, Galliano, Lagerfeld, McQueen and McCartney looked comfortably at home on the pink silk wallpaper.

“No, you keep them for me. I’ll be back.”

“I knew you’d say that!” Celia bit her lip and reached for a tissue as Indira pulled a little tent card out of her purse and put in the middle of her desk: Reserved for Celia Narro.

“There, it’s official! Hey – you’re not throwing this out are you?” Indira plucked Mabel Caylor’s yellowed letter out of the trash basket.

Mysterious treasures and love, pure Indira catnip! Celia knew she wouldn’t this slide.

“But what if it IS real? It’s like a movie – you’ll be the princess coming to reclaim her treasure and find her prince!” Indira broke into her favorite little dance move, teasing a smile out of her friend.

“You’d better cut back on the Bollywood Indi,” Celia said with a laugh. “It’s obviously just someone tryin’ to mess with me since I’ll be the new kid. They want me to show up and start asking questions like a total dorkapotomas. I’m not falling for it.”

The movers slammed the door on their way out with Celia’s boxes. The chandelier tinkled in protest overhead as a little gilt frame crashed to the floor. Celia picked it up. The quote slid around in her cold clammy palms. “With the right pair of shoes a girl can change the world.” Her parents gave it to her with the desk. What's so great about change anyway, she thought. Change stinks.

Her parents were big on change but they were usually all talk. She never imagined they would actually go through with this whole move-to-the-country fiasco, especially after the miserable visit over spring break. With the stores closed until May even the weather gave up, spending the week in the sloppy, drizzly equivalent of worn gray lounge pants. Welcome to White Birch Cove - the place dreams go to die.

“Seriously, they might as well just lock me in the basement,” Celia said, cracking her gum like a whip as they walked to the door. “I mean, a FARM and a restaurant in the middle of nowhere! Can you even? Now do I look like a farmer?” she asked with one of her typical grand gestures.

Indira put on her Fake Serious Face. From the glossy black blow-out under her hat, past the necklaces rippling down her back, to the soles of her designer sandals this girl was a born New Yorker from head to toe.

“Noooo. . .,” Indira said, dissolving into Celia’s favorite giggly laugh.

“And does this look like a farm dog?” This time they both laughed because there was no way to even picture Coco’s handful of Yorkie fluff anywhere other than these upholstered brownstone streets. Coco wagged her tail. She liked attention even if she didn’t always understand it. Indira’s laugh trailed away as they turned to take the long way home through the park. She built up her courage for a few silent hair-twisting blocks before bubbling over in front of the Shakespeare Garden.

“Cee, I don't want to make you mad but you’d better hope that letter’s right about the treasure.” Her words picked up speed, snowballing downhill. “You’re going to find out anyway so you might as well hear it from me - the Designers Institute is having a Teen Runway Rockstar competition this summer.” With this bomb Indira put her hands over her eyes and peeked out through the bunker of her manicure.

“You have GOT to be kidding me!” Celia shouted. “That is SO not fair! Somebody else is going to get OUR big break!” She whipped off her hat and sent it twirling into the water. An impish breeze, scented with Belgian waffles and hot dogs, lifted her black bangs and sent sunshine sparkles skipping across the surface of the pond.

“There's more,” Indira said. “The winner gets a trip to Paris to shop for materials.” Celia collapsed in a heap on to the soft green grass.

“Why are they doing this now? I can't believe it. I’ve wanted to be a designer my whole life!”

“I know! This just isn’t meant to be. Something else will work out.”

“Lemme think for a minute. There’s got to be a way. I’m not giving up that easy.” Celia plucked blades of grass one by one and threw them like arrows toward the invisible demon of unfairness.

“There's only one thing to do,” she said. “I'm not thirteen until February. You're going to have to enter.”

“My mom's a member of the Institute. I can't.”

“We'll make it work, say we're from Queens or something. They don’t know every girl in the city. This has got our name written all over it!”

“I don't know Cee. Cheaters never prosper.” Indira toyed with her wrist-load of thin bracelets. “You know my parents, if they find out I’ll be SO busted. I don’t even want to think about what they would do.”

“Look at it this way. Would you rather make up a new designer who's never existed or go to school with Hilde Essen after she comes back from Paris?”

“Okay, you win,” Indira said. “I'm down. But you HAVE to back me up on this, you can’t leave me hanging once you’re gone!”

“You’re the best Indi - we are going to set this town on fy-yaah!” Celia said, spinning to her feet. “You know you can count on me. Grab my hand will ya? We need to rescue that hat.”

As Indira held on to her left hand, Celia stretched out over the edge of the pier. Just as her fingertips brushed the brim her cell flipped over the edge of her pocket like Jacques Cousteau. One soft plop and it sank like a stone.

“Oh man! This is officially the worst day EVER.” And it wasn't even lunchtime yet. All too soon they reached Indira’s doorman Amara who, like all good doormen, knew exactly how much time each tenant required for their hellos and goodbyes.

“I can't believe you're really going - text as soon as you’re over the bridge,” Indira said, with one last lemongrass-scented hug. Sparkling tears dangled from her minky lashes. “Remember, you've got to be back by Labor Day, or sooner! Just do what the letter says, use the treasure to pay your way back.”

“My phone's taking a swim — remember? I’ll write you every day until I get a new one. Treasure or no treasure I’m going to find a way back here as soon as I can, whatever it takes. That's a promise.” Her voice, low and fierce, could have belonged to someone else. With eyes unfashionably moist, the girls parted with the secret handshake they’d started in second grade but this was the first time Celia walked away wondering if they would ever see each other again.


  1. Heather,

    Hello again! I'm still loving all that I previously mentioned, yet still have a problem with the letter. It still feels disconnected to me. Could you 'show' us, your readers the letter by way of Celia reading the letter to Indira, then she tosses it in the can? You know what I mean? Make it present, open with her reading to Indira?

    I played with it, hope you don't mind: Start like this,

    “But what if it IS real? It’s like a movie – you’ll be the princess coming to reclaim her treasure and find her prince!” Indira broke into her favorite little dance move, teasing a smile out of her friend.

    “You’d better cut back on the Bollywood Indi,” Celia said with a laugh. “It’s obviously just someone tryin’ to mess with me since I’ll be the new kid. They want me to show up and start asking questions like a total dorkapotomas. I’m not falling for it.”

    "Oh c'mom, let me read it again." Celia took threw it over Indira's bobbing head, but it hit the rim, and right on Indira's Tory Birch flats. Indira scooped up the letter, reading aloud...

    Last time, I asked why the fashion contest, and you said it is needed to set the clock... though in that case, it feels convoluted. Maybe while she's reading the letter, and tells Indira she thinks it's a bunch of nothing, Indira can say .."its too bad you can't enter the contest." Then you have two clocks going at the same time.
    Just trying to answer to your dilemma. Can the contest intertwine with the treasure hunt in anyway? Will it?

    I do love the fashion component and am eager to see how it intertwines with Celia's quest and how the supernatural exudes!

    Thanks again for a fun read.

  2. Heather – I love the improvements! I like the added info to the prologue. A spy – yes! One line - Death is so terribly inconvenient, it’s your turn now – this seems like you’re saying it’s your turn to die.

    Beautiful opening to chapter one. Celia and Indira are more likeable in this version. Their friendship is cute. I love the little tent card! And dorkapotomas. You’ve explained the reason for the move better. I like that she lost her phone, but I would have expected some hysteria. Girls and their phones! I like how this sets her up to be isolated in the new town. You’ve done a great job revising – I’m having trouble finding anything to change!

  3. Hi Heather,

    Great revisions! I feel like I know Celia much better. I kinda liked her snarkiness before... maybe I've spent too much time with Mr. Darcy and Mr. Rochester as of late, who knows! :) But I do like the added sweet to her spicy nature here.

    I'm a fan of the letter but I'm wondering if it might be better to have it later as opposed to the beginning. I really started to connect with the story at Chapter 1. I really like Janis' suggestions or maybe show the girls discovering the letter together out on the farm? Whatever you do, don't lose that line I mentioned on the other critique, the "spidery blue veins of handwriting." My heart would break. In half.

    If it was me, I'd probably start the whole story with:

    "In the back room of a boutique on Central Park West, one sixth-grade designing duo was ripping apart at the seams."

    That line is freaking awesome! It gives us place, the fashion element, the age of the characters and the idea of unwanted change all in one wallop.

    Where Indira says, "This just isn't meant to be. Something else will work out" sounds maybe a bit mature. Just something more like "Maybe it's just not meant to be." ? Sounds a little more 12 to me.

    I'm with Jeri- you need a meltdown over the phone. 12 year-olds barely even talk to each other, they text. I have a feeling these two girls in particular live and die by their phones.

    I think the last line is great and would be even stronger broken into two:

    "With eyes unfashionable moist, the girls parted with the secret handshake they'd started in second grade. This was the first time Celia walked away wondering if they would ever see each other again."

    Great work here! Can't wait for the next one...

  4. I really think the prologue is unnecessary, I'm sorry! The spy thing and the line after made little sense to me. Whereas I LOVE the voice you've given the rest! I like your MC so much better here. I'm rooting for her. One thing to think about - I like it a lot - but you don't see much omniscient voice lately... Also take a look at your paragraphs physically. It seems like you need to vary it a little. You start with a lot of dialogue - not that dialogue is bad - I would look at changing it up a little though.

  5. Hi Heather,

    Your voice is wonderful in the chapter! I love what you've done here, and I think the characters are very clear. You've definitely gotten us moving and active, which is great. I feel like the characters may be coming across as a bit older than you want, but that's just going to take a bit of tweaking here and there. Go through line by line and see if it sounds authentic.

    My main issue for next time is that I agree with Lisa. The prologue is still unclear and vague and the letter is coming across as too pat and convenient.

    At this point, I think you need to trust yourself and your great writing skills. You don't need to throw the letter at us. We are going with you for the ride even without it! Find a way to replot to incorporate that later after we've suspended disbelief and gotten into the story more. There's plenty in your first chapter to get us interested, and we're assimilating the move and all sorts of other things. If you feel like you want to mention the letter, consider having Indira ask about it and having Celia dismiss it or something--just a bit of foreshadowing for later.

    Maybe try it without and see how it works for you?

    One last note, and Lisa hit on that too, take a look at your balance of narrative elements to make sure you are giving us a good mix of dialogue, narrative, interiority, and action. Be sure that we are anchored in an image at all times so that we can see the girls while they are talking and moving. :)

    Great job! Looking forward to the revision.

  6. Yes! Much stronger opening. Right up front we get "the call" (a great treasure and a great responsibility), a defined antagonist (the Triangle vultures), and a ticking clock (there's no time to lose). Terific opening.
    You might want to think about the 2nd and 3rd lines, which are certainly artfully written, but sort of give a pause before the punch...a delay you might want to do without, but I go back and forth.
    The first chapter is also getting really strong. The immediate sense of time and place really helps. Actually, it helped much more than I would have expected that it would. Thanks for the lesson.
    I still get a little lost in the conversation between Celia and Mabel (and I still love the nickname Cee-maybe just go with that).
    I have a little trouble following how the two scenes relate to each other. If Chapter One is the next scene (in time), then I think you need to enter it with a conversation about the letter. Perhaps it opens with Cee saying, "But of course you're going." Then show Mabel making the statement of throwing it into the trash; you have a chance to show conflict, the character make-up of Mabel (stubborn?), and add weight to her tough decision to go check it out (which could be your Plot Point One).
    Great revision. Your story is really starting to show itself.

  7. Hi everyone,

    Thank you for all the thoughtful work you've put in here, I really appreciate it! So many MG books have an initial grabber page (that's what I call it), not a prologue even - most of the time not even labelled, and that's what I had in mind when I set up the letter at the beginning. I don't know what these pages are or how they came to be, I've never seen them discussed. But I see them a lot. (With a middle grade daughter and hs son my house is full of MG and YA!) Also, I too have a deep unease about the third person omnisicent since the vast, vast majority of MG is first person. However, all the mysteries I've loved are third person so I went that route too.

    I had an agent tell me I shouldn't change the first line of the letter, so I'm approaching "not sure what to do now" territory! :) Time to get to work on rev. 2!