Monday, April 8, 2013

1st 5 Pages April Workshop - Levy

Sheri Levy
Middle grade
Dog Days of Summer

Chapter 1

Sydney and I wrestled in my bedroom until I giggled so hard my insides ached and his barking made me deaf. I crisscrossed my arms on my chest and said, “Freeze!” He stopped in motion, panting. His head tilted sideways, eyes glued on mine, waiting for the next command. I always made sure Sydney got to be a regular puppy. Even when he became someone’s service dog, he’d still have playtime.

Momma’s voice boomed through the door, “Trina, are you packed?”

“Sort of.” I gave Sydney the release word, “Okay,” and he pounced at me. I threw my arms around his neck, buried my face in his red, brown and white-freckled fur and breathed in his fresh vanilla scent. My stomach did cartwheels. Can I survive this next week? His trainer’s words echoed in my mind. ‘Trina, you’ve done a terrific job with your first dog. He’s ready to return to my kennel for his final months of training.’

This week at the beach would be my last with Sydney.


Using the bottom of my pajama top, I wiped the wetness from my eyes. T-shirts, shorts, and socks lay scattered across the floor. I scooted my desk chair through the mess and into the closet to retrieve my duffel bag. Sydney followed with a smelly sock hanging from his mouth.

While separating last year’s summer clothes into two heaps, my dirty pile grew larger than the clean, minus one sock. “Syd, where’s my sock?”

He darted into the closet. Strutting out, his little stub of a tail wiggled as he dropped the wet sock on my lap. Everything he did was a game.

Staring at my small stack of clean clothes, I shrugged and looked into Syd’s golden eyes. “You won’t care if I wear these a few times, will you?” His tail jiggled.

I dressed in my regular jean shorts and concert t-shirt with the words PINK & PURPLE swirled across the front. Sarah and I always wore them on special outings. The front of my T was purple and the back pink. Hers was just the opposite. Our parents had given them to us when we were eight after they attended the band’s concert. Last year Sarah had grown so much, hers had gone from a nightgown to a t-shirt. Mine was a long T. But we still looked the same.

Minutes later I hollered, “Momma, Dad’s loading the car.” Inside the garage, Sydney’s floppy ears drooped. During his one year with me, he’d learned the duffel bag signaled a trip somewhere and he wasn’t always invited. “Surprise, Sydney. You get to ‘Go.’” His mouth stretched over his teeth like a grin as he turned in circles. Skidding into his learned ‘Sit,’ he waited for the next command.

His eyes locked with mine. Pointing at his face, I counted one thousand-one, one thousand-two, one-thousand three in my head, and then said, “Okay!” He leaped to the backseat. I climbed in and nuzzled his forehead with mine.

Dad drove us down the street to Sarah’s to caravan. This year we’d explore a dog-friendly beach and make Sydney an expert water dog. Going up Sarah’s driveway, my eyes widened. There stood my best friend dribbling her soccer ball, wearing a baby-blue tank top layered over a green one with lace at the bottom. They matched the blue and green sea shells along the cuffs of her white shorts. I gasped. She must have outgrown her PINK & PURPLE shirt entirely.

She looked bizarre kicking her soccer ball in such a fancy outfit. Darby, her black and white Springer spaniel, chased the ball, barked and wagged her stub of a tail. Sydney and I wedged our heads out the window. “Wow. Where are your soccer clothes?”

“Gone.” She tittered, fluttered her eyelashes and twirled, flinging her blond French-braid. “Mom took me shopping.”

Her eyes matched her top, but I kept that to myself. No reason to add to her new coolness. Ready for the beach and not a fashion show, I didn’t let on that my bathing suit was under my T-shirt and shorts. I doubted hers under her new clothes. “Are you and Darby riding with us?”

“I will. Darby can go with my parents.” She climbed in with her backpack. “Hi, Mr. and Mrs. Ryan.”

“Hi, Sarah.” Momma turned around. “You look very pretty.”

Sydney wiggled onto Sarah’s lap, but she gently pushed him off. With her head bent she said, “Thanks,” and plucked dog hairs from her clothes.

The air conditioner gusted, the windows whirred going up and the radio blared. Dad backed down the driveway saying, “Let’s hit the road.”

“Yay! We’re off, Syd.” Excitement spiked through my arms and legs like electric currents. His front legs stretched across my lap, putting weight on my thighs. He sensed I needed calming and practiced his technique on me. “Sarah, remember last year? How we buried each other in the sand. That was so much fun.”

“Yeah. But this time, I just want to lie on the sand and work on my tan.”

“Well. That’ll be fun for a while,” I said, scratching behind Syd’s ears and squirming in the seat. “Then maybe we’ll learn to surf? Or bogey board? Even ride a wave runner?” My eyes pleaded with her.

“Hmm... First, I’ll have to feel how cold the water is and see how many jellyfish are on shore.”

“Okay. But you know I can’t go to the beach without swimming.” I sighed, stroking Sydney’s back. “The realtor said this house was kind of old, but right on the beach.”

“Oooo! Being on the beach will make it easier to walk up and down.” Sarah’s eyebrows rose and gave me a sideways smirk, “And we can meet guys.”

I choked. “So-we-can-do, WHAT?” I stared at her as if she spoke a foreign language. Before blurting out something crazy, I caught my breath and remembered back to the last day of school, only four days ago. Sarah and her class friend, Tyler, had huddled in a corner, talking and exchanging pieces of paper. “But Sarah, this week is supposed to be about you and me and our dogs.”

“Oh. Trina. It’ll be the perfect place to meet guys. No one will know us there so it won’t matter if we goof up and say the wrong things.”

I scrunched my nose.

Sarah unzipped her pink backpack and pulled out a pink cell phone. “Look. Here’s my fifth-grade graduation present. Or should I say my going-into-sixth grade present?”

“Wow. Let me see. Why didn’t you call me?”

“I just got it yesterday when we went shopping. You were busy with Sydney so I waited to show you. I could’ve txtd you if you had one, too.”

Leaning closer, I whispered, “It’s almost by birthday. You never know.”

I tapped Momma’s shoulder. “Look at Sarah’s graduation present.”

Momma laid her book on the seat and turned around. “That’s very nice, Sarah.”

“Thanks Mrs. Ryan. Everyone has one in middle school.”

Momma gave me an apologetic smile and returned to her book. Sarah handed me her phone over Syd’s head. It chimed, so she jerked it back. “Just a minute.” She leaned over and started txtng. She typed and giggled.

Pretending to read my book, Socializing Your Australian Shepherd, my eyes kept flitting back to Sarah. Sydney moved between us and slept on the seat. Then the realization hit the pit of my stomach, Sarah’s different.


  1. Aw, the ending pinged my heart! You've captured that bewildered, sinking feeling of losing your best friend beautifully.

    The characters (including the dog!) are well developed and you place the reader quickly into each setting.

    The beginning paragraphs dragged a little for me. I say start w/ the 4th and 5th paragraph, "This week...", and "ever" then throw in the necessary tidbits from the first three. Just my modest opinion. I could be way off. =)

    When you first introduce Sarah, immediately mention her as Trina's best friend so reader can place her; otherwise she comes off as Trina's sister.

    I think bogey board should be boogie board. Not entirely sure. There's always different slang coming out w/ surfing. =) Maybe that's the hip way of spelling boogie board nowadays?

    Since the words "txtd" and "txtng" are in the narrative and not actually showing on a cell phone screen, they should be spelled correctly - texted and texting. And 1 other accidental misspelling - "It’s almost (by) birthday"

    You nicely portray the love between dog and girl. I think this story could definitely be a winner among the middle grade crowd! =)

  2. Hi Sheri,
    I really enjoyed this. Such a sweet story for a middle grade. I think you've set it up nicely. Great description, voice, and dialogue. I really liked the relationship between Trina and her dog. I think you made Trina's story worthy problem clear.
    Maybe make know she's going into middle school a little sooner. I assumed she'd be that about that age, but when the friend started talking about boys, I questioned. It's not major though, but set the reader a little better.
    Just my thoughts, and really, I thought this was great.

  3. Hi Sheri,

    Your story Is well written and full of heart. Sydney is adorable. You set a scene and keep my interest with little mysteries that are quickly answered, very appropriate for middle grade fiction. First I wanted to know who Trina was wrestling with. Then I wanted to know where she was going. You set up the big conflict between her and her friend right away. Nice!

    Nitpicky stuff:

    I want to know Trina's age sooner.

    Does Syd pretend to look for the sock in the closet, knowing it's already in his mouth? If he's really that clever, let Trina comment on his intelligence.

    I want to know Syd's breed, though you can wait till a subsequent chapter for that.

    Introduce Trina and Sarah's relationship right away. You can even use this as an opportunity to hint about the problem between them earlier in the chapter. A good place would be after the paragraph ending in, "Sydney followed with a smelly sock hanging from his mouth."

    Here's an example of what I mean--At least my best friend, Sara, will be with me at the beach, though she seemed odd the last time we talked on the phone, and that makes me worry--only you can write it better than I can.

    Consider rephrasing the line, "No reason to add to her new coolness." I like it, but I think you mean something else. Conceitedness maybe?

    I loved Trina's line, "So-we-can-do, WHAT?"

    Consider adding a brief flashback to a different Sarah, maybe one that wore a silly hat and cowboy boots for a dog rodeo they put on last year.

    You could amp the tension one more notch by having Sarah text someone that will be at the beach, too.

    All in all, a strong start for a charming middle grade novel about friendship. Congratulations!

  4. What a heartwarming stat to a story. It's a great way way to engage a reader in this age group.

    I would like to know Trina's age sooner as it makes it easier to relate to her character. And her relationship with Sarah should be mentioned right away.

    But this is already a great start and I'd say you only need a little work to tighten things up:)

  5. Hi Sheri,
    Great story! You described the age and the changing relationships perfectly. I have nothing new to add in the comments. I agree on wanting to know Trina’s age sooner.

  6. We've seen this before! :D I like what you've done with it. I feel it has a better balance between the dogs and the best friend stuff. I like the cell phone addition.

  7. Hi Sheri,
    I love that the girls' friendship is tied in with their relationships with their dogs. It wasn't until after I started writing my comments that I realized Sarah let her dog ride with her parents. Maybe make that a little clearer, as it seeks like an important indicator that has changed.
    I agree that you should include something about Sarah a little earlier. Lauren had some great ideas about that.
    aexcellent start. I love the voice.

  8. Thanks Jan and Lisa. Yes. I sent this in maybe a year ago and have rewritten the entire manuscript. Thanks for letting me resend it. When do we send in revisions??