Monday, May 6, 2013

First 5 Pages May Workshop - Lambert

Jeannie Lambert
Young Adult

First Five Pages

Chapter 1

And five-thousand. KaBOOM! Lightning is one mile too close. “Missed me.” Rolling my eyes and waggling my tongue is a bold move, habit, considering I’m a teenager caught on top of Devil’s Cellar. This craggy cliff has a hole reputed for consuming anyone close to the edge. I could hear God say, “This time.”

Getting away was my purpose, but I didn’t have a destination. Running away was the easy part. But I lacked an exit strategy leaving everyone behind who could tell me what to do next.

Circling the drain, cloud vapors funnel around that hungry, gaping hole. Surrounding me, that last strike came from the ground up. So disconnected and numb. Am I leaving my body?

BOOM! Hearing is the last thing to go. Must not be dead yet, no such luck. Waiting to die is so boring in this flora-dripping cave.

Flash--a light casts its spider-fine net across the infinity-edged sky drawing back a catch of cumulus clouds. The light is strangely soothing. But I could do without the--BOOM!

Thunder is scary especially when it is so close while I am far away from home. Curled up around a rusty old rhododendron root is my new worst day. Lightning used to be my heebie-jeebie. Not anymore, facing certain death from a lightning bolt is better than parents. What I’ve done is the worst ever. And it seemed like such a good idea at the time. Running away is my only way out. Impulsive me left everything behind except for
my favorite white powdered doughnut. The doughnut, my life, everything disintegrated into a gooey pocket mess.

I was a nice girl. Now I’m a bad girl. When did I change so drastically?

Flash! Boom! Crack! That lightning must have hit a tree. Something is going on over there. It’s getting back up! That camouflaged boy is peeing over there, he is not a rhododendron.

“I can see you,” I said while covering my eyes. “Don’t point that thing at me,” avoiding an imagined downhill stream of yellow, I uncoiled from my fetal position.

Jumping back as if snake bit, the lanky boy pinched off the stream and zipped up the offending source. “What are you”?”

“I’m a girl, stupid.”

“I know you are a girl, but what are you doing here?”

“I ran away. You found me. But, I’m not going back with you.” My eye twitched defiantly. This internal lie detector tried to give me away.

“I found a place to pee, not you. You don’t look much like you’re running.”

This apathetic male form did anything but discourage me. Who does he think he is? Angry with him, a piece of me came back, more alive.

“Don’t you want to know why I’m here?”

“Nope, I’m not interested.” He pulled out a canteen of water drinking in gulps, spilling most of it.

“I need to tell you why I ran away,” tugging on a vine, my voice cracked and the vine tumbled down.

“I couldn’t care less. Shush.” His head bobbed from side to side. “I have enough to worry about.”

And I thought I was the only one so tortured and misunderstood. “I guess I’ll come with you.”

“I’m not asking. Yeah, I think they are getting closer. I heard a pack of yelping dogs a bit back. Save your story for the Boiling Springs Rescue Squad, maybe they care enough to hear why. Stay here and they’ll find you.”

“What’s your name?”

Darting away he called, “Runaway.”

“Wait.” Take me with you. I thought but did not say. Hiking in the Appalachian Mountains is like spinning in a Maytag washer with undulating hills snarled by rhododendron. He slipped around, between to the beyond. Leaving me, I felt more than alone, lonely.

I wanted to tell him that I’m not the only one, everyone lies. So easy and it beats getting into trouble.

Only now, perched on this ledge with lightning flashing around me, makes me change my mind. I’m fixing to be a human spark plug. This wasn’t part of the plan. Flash! Boom! That one was closer. My hair is standing on end and that freaky blue glow is coming out of my electrified fingers.

God, please don’t give up on me. Don’t strike me down, not now. I’ll fix it. BOOM! Blackness splashes over me and I sense someone near.

“Promise?” asked God.

“Pinky-swear promise,” I answered.

Chapter 2

Something is different.

The earth crested, forcing a pulse into my chest. I felt a whisper of a breath ripple from that pulse point. Air inflated my lungs once again. My soggy, zippered eyelashes obscured someone leaning over me, shaking my shoulder.

“…” that boy lip-synced, but nothing came out.

I shook my head and said, “I can’t hear you.”

He pointed to the sky then to me.

“Was I hit by lightning?”

He nodded his head. He pointed to where I had been before waking up—20 feet away.

“I am alive?” Convulsing with shivers, unable to stop, I felt grateful drops of tears puddle.

I felt a hand grasp mine. He gave me a squeeze, a lifeline pulling me back in the present. He gestured charade-like that he was going to get someone to help.

“Do you want me to stay here?”

Nodding, he got up, picking his way around the dense branches. Lumbering down the mountain, he set out.

This time when he left, I didn’t feel lonely. Exuberance percolated through me. God didn’t, so I wouldn’t, give up on me. Now I have a chance to fix it. The right side of the truth is not to tell a lie. The left side is what I will tell you now.

Chapter 3

A thunderstorm will more than likely hover at noon throughout the summer in Boiling Springs. Just take a pitcher of water and pour it down the nape of my neck. A raincoat is useless. I’ll either get soaked from the shower or pour the sweat in the 100% humidity. It begins in April and ends in August a long five months. Call me Madame Jesse because all I have to say is “it is fixing to rain,” and it will at some time each day.

Everyone obsesses about the weather—anNoying. Can’t anyone find something more important to talk about?

“Jesse do you have your raingear with you?”

“Of course mother, whatever, I’ve got to get to school,” I said.

Her questions are more than what they seem. A simple, “How much homework do you have?” on Friday sets my destiny. “A lot” gets me a pass from pulling weeds but I best not ask to go to the movies. “Not much” means I get to go to the movies, but I’m also expected to help until the housework and gardening are finished.

“It is only 645. Don’t you have plenty of time?” asked mom. See what I mean.

“Melanie’s meeting me early.”

“And why do I see your rain coat hanging up in the mud room,” said mom nonchalantly ignoring my little white lie.

“I don’t need it.” See I’m a normal teenager with a healthy disrespect.

“Be careful, a storm is coming. Fred from the Weather Channel said we’ve already had 30 inches of rain this month. It is a little known fact that we live in a virtual rain forest. In fact Vietnam and Boiling Springs are similar because,” shouted dad shrouded in his den.


  1. I'm going to be brave and be the first one to comment. Then everyone else can either agree or disagree with me. :.)

    There are some nice elements here, but I'm left a little confused. I get that the MC is running away, but is she both 1) scared of lightening and 2) being chased by some group "Boiling Springs Rescue Squad" and 3) are they both being chased and 4) is this just a regular squad of people or some menacing in the future government overcontrol thing?

    Now that's a lot of questions. I think I want more of why she's running away, why she feels she's so close to death (how long has she been gone, did she run out of food, have the weather conditions been particularily horrid, etc) and a little less description.

    I love the name Devil's Cellar, but because the MC knows the name it makes me feel she isn't far from why is she almost dead already? Or did she run away when she was already in bad condition? I realize the goal of writing is to get people to ask WHY? but I think you might need to give readers a little more info at first so they don't feel lost.

    Sorry if I went on too long.
    I hope this helps.

  2. I started to read Ann's comments then stopped because I want to give my own impressions without knowing hers. There were definitely things about Chapters 1-2 that I enjoyed, but I also found reading them a little frustrating. I liked the intensity of the sensory images you painted, but I felt like I was being bombarded with them without enough context. Like the bolts of lightening, things seemed to appear with little or no warning or context...first a powdered doughnut, then a urinating boy.

    The story seemed to be calming down a bit in Chapter Three where the reader is given a bit more insight into the reasons why Jesse might have have run away, but things still felt a bit frenetic. I enjoyed the line about Madame Jesse's ability to 'predict' the weather, as well as the one about the importance of the MC choosing her words carefully when answering her mom's question about homework.

    In summary, I think you have some nice elements here, but I would like to see you work on weaving them together a little more smoothly. I feel what I'm reading are the images tumbling out of your brain, but what I as a reader need is for you to slow down and give me more a framework to understand them.

  3. Agree with the above comments, including that there are nice elements (loved the image of her life as a 'gooey pocket mess', and the MC's commentary on her exchange w/ her mom).

    But as a reader, my mental image of the setting was jumping all around in Chapter 1. In the first paragraph I pictured the MC "on top of" a craggy cliff called Devil's Cellar, but in the 4th para she's in a cave. Is the cave Devil's Cellar? This may seem minor, but as a reader the confusion took me out of the story.

    Same thing with the contrast between the MC's fear and guilt, and her ability to quickly switch to a flippant conversation with a boy peeing amid the lightning strikes. She seemed able to drop her fear of death in a heartbeat, which made me think of her as a bit of a drama queen. (I'm interested in other people's reactions, it may just be me).

  4. I think that's a great point, VGC: as a writer, my goal is for the reader to become so engrossed and lost in the story and that they forget that they're even reading. Moments where one has to stop and decipher what's happening work against that, repeatedly pulling the reader out of the story. I think if Jeannie can go back and fill in some of the context for the reader, it will make a much smoother reading experience.

  5. So I was confused as well by Chapter 1. Some of the imagery is good but it was confusing. I had to go over and read the first paragraph to get an idea of what's going on. This is a nitpick but her referring to herself as a teenager took me out of it, I don't think teens would say that, it felt like exposition to me.

    Also her conversation with the boy swings from I won't tell you anything, I won't go with you to let me tell you why I'm a runaway and take me with you, which I thought was pretty abrupt.

  6. Also the MC does seem to swing back and forth. I can't quite get a read on her, the MC, I'd like to be able to sympathize with her but I don't know who she is and why she's doing things and that makes it hard for me.

  7. Hi Jeannie,

    I enjoy your writing, which shows a lot of promise. You have many lovely 3D descriptions that bring the scene to life in unexpected ways, and I very much enjoyed reading those. I love the peeing boy! That's the kind of unexpected detail that always makes me sit up and take notice. But, the downside of that is that you write it so matter of factly, "that camouflaged boy is peeing" that I stopped reading and immediately went back to see where (and how) I missed the fact that there was a camouflaged boy. You do this several times.

    Overall, I think that you might benefit from outlining the action and thoughts in this for yourself to see what you have versus what you need, identifying the important elements, and then going through it twice, once from the perspective of the reader and what he/she needs to know to understand what is going on, and then again from the perspective of the mc. You are in deep in her POV, but at times, and this may be because I was confused about the action, it seemed to me that her thoughts and emotions rang false. Understanding why she is thinking about/feeling something is usually at least as important as knowing that she is thinking/feeling it.

    Good beginning, and I'm looking forward to the first revision! :)