Monday, August 12, 2013

1st 5 Pages August Workshop - Hill Rev 1

Name: Jen Hill

Genre: Middle Grade Fiction (Ghost Story)

Title: Secrets Of The Upside-Down Treehouse

Inside the old stone walls of the Palindrome Academy for Learning Arts sat B. Lee Banks, alone on the stage of the great auditorium. Any minute now her fellow spelling bee competitors would begin to arrive, and B. Lee knew she had just a few more minutes of solitude before the room would begin to buzz with chatter. She fished a filigreed barrette out of her leather satchel and held it tight as she reviewed the vocabulary in her head. She knew good-luck charms were for silly-hearts, but this was one superstition she allowed herself. The barrette was a family heirloom, passed down on her mother’s side, and it gave B. Lee peace of mind. She preferred not to wear it in her hair because that would break the rules of The Bun, which was her one and only hairstyle. The Bun was a tidy up-do in the manner of an old-fashioned schoolmarm. It was a serious hairdo. It was also the opposite of cool, but B. Lee wasn’t destined for being cool. She was destined for a far greater purpose.

In her head she began a conversation with Christopher Palindrome, the boy for whom the school was named over one hundred years ago. He congratulated her in that old-timey voice she imagined him to have, and gave her a friendly punch in the arm. “Catching up to me, I see,” he said playfully. B. Lee smiled. “One more win and we’re tied,” she said with a wink.

“Oh yay, a seat next to B. Lee Banks!” squealed Ramona Romano as she plopped down in the chair next to her and shook her out of the pleasant fantasy. Ramona was being sarcastic of course, because nobody really ever wanted to sit next to B.Lee. “Are you looking forward to the trophy you’re going to add to your trophy shelf?” she teased.

“As a matter of fact, yes I am. And can you please not antagonize me for a change?” B. Lee folded her arms over her chest in a defensive gesture she hoped would convey attitude.

“Antagonize? Seriously B.Lee, why do you always have to show off with your fancy words? Jeez.” Ramona rolled her hazel eyes so high they seemed to skim her thick black bangs. “I see you’ve worn your business suit today, as usual,” she continued with a smirk, and reached out to tug on the men’s tie that hung around B. Lee’s neck. “One of your dad’s?”

“Nope. These ties are from my own collection,” said B. Lee, yanking it out of Ramona’s busy hands and smoothing it down against her crisp white shirt. She tried to think of a clever put-down of Ramona’s annoying penchant for pink, but she wasn’t very good at comebacks. She just wanted to be left alone.

The surrounding seats had begun to fill up and B. Lee hoped Ramona would find another person to bother, but Ramona was having too much fun. “Did you play ‘coffee shop’ this morning?” she pressed, twirling her chin-length hair around a pink-nailed finger.

“I didn’t ‘play’ coffee shop– I run a coffee shop. And yes, it was very busy this morning, thank you,” said B. Lee defensively. Why was it so hard for people to understand that she had a side business? No one ever questioned little kids having lemonade stands. And duh, lemons cost so much more than coffee. Lemonade stands don’t earn money, they’re just cute. And B. Lee was interested in making money. Adults drink coffee like fiends, and B. Lee knew it, which was why the coffee stand she set up in front of her house each morning was such a success. It was genius, she thought. Pity the fools like Ramona who were too simple to get it.

But that reminded her: she’d skipped her usual trip to the bank to deposit the sales money because it was more important to be the first one at school than to risk not getting her favorite seat. She clutched her bag nervously, and snuck a peek in to make sure the money was still there. Of course it was. Phew. But the idea of carrying around so much money made her edgy; she’d have to get to the bank right after school.

“Whatcha got in there? A cheat sheet for me?” smirked Ramona, leaning in to get a better look. B. Lee snapped the bag closed and held it in her lap. “None of your business,” she warned. “Seriously, Ramona, can you please just stop?” Ramona was so irritating.

“Right. A perfect student like you would never cheat. Oh well. have fun being valedictorian or whatever. “

“I intend to,” said B. Lee, turning to Ramona with a confident smile.
Indeed, B. Lee Banks’ sole purpose in life was to be the best student ever– better, even, than the legendary Christopher Palindrome. A very tall order, but she knew she could do it.

Amid the shuffling of seats and checking of microphones, B. Lee concentrated on the words she had spent countless hours mastering. She scanned the room as auditorium seats filled up with the students of Palindrome Academy. Besides Ramona, she had a few peeves with certain classmates and preferred to know where they sat so she could avoid looking at them.

At the top of the list was Maud Brindlebee, who told tall tales, dressed oddly, got the worst grades and always, always seemed to be stealing attention. She was the new girl that year, having just appeared at the start of 5th grade. B. Lee couldn’t find the yellow-haired girl anywhere she looked. Probably won’t even show up, she thought dismissively.

“Attention students!” boomed the merry voice of Principal Grimaldi, whose lanky figure stood at a microphone in the center of the stage. “Welcome to the hundred-and-sixteenth annual Palindrome Academy Spelling Bee!” The audience cheered.

“Let us give a warm round of applause for all the brave students who have chosen to compete this year. Competitors, please stand and take a bow.” Principal Grimaldi turned to the children on the stage, offering them a mustachioed smile as they bowed for their audience. He then took his place at the podium at the side of stage.

First up was Isobel Antler, who misspelled the word “crumb”. This is going to be too easy, B. Lee thought with a smile on her face she couldn’t hide. One after another approached the mic, some sighing with relief after a correct spelling; some crumpling with defeat. Her name was called, and, hoping for a really difficult word with which to dazzle everyone, she approached the microphone.

“Please spell the word ‘fidget’, as in, ‘Please do not fidget in your seat.’”

Simple! Not the complicated word she'd wished for, but she’d have plenty of others later in the day.

“Fidget,” she began confidently, “F-I-...”

But before she could continue a clanging sound came from the back of the auditorium. Everyone turned to see a disheveled girl who, dragging a tin can on a string, was attempting to creep in unnoticed. The black beret she wore over her curly hair gave her the air of a mime or old-fashioned artist. People snickered at the sight of her.

Ugh, thought B. Lee, she pursing her lips in outrage. Of all times to interrupt, Maud Brindlebee had to choose the exact moment when B. Lee was about to shine in front of the entire school. Typical! Maud Brindlebee, who told tall tales, dressed oddly, got the worst grades and always, always seemed to be stealing attention. That ridiculous mop-like hairdo of hers with those silly curls: what did they call those– ringlets? B. Lee thought Maud looked just like a girl from an old black-and-white movie singing about lollipops. Her weird baby voice made the image even more believable.

“Miss Banks,” prompted the principal, “please finish spelling the word ‘Fidget.’ ”

B. Lee began to sweat. She could not remember where she had stopped. Did she get to d yet? Yes, she must have- that was always where everyone else messed up. She tried to relax and continue where she had left off, for starting over would disqualify her.

“...G-E-T. Fidget.” She smiled at the principal, flouncing off to her seat.

“I’m sorry, that is incorrect. Please take a seat in the audience.”


No, no this could not be, there must be some mistake. How could she have been wrong? She knew that word inside and out! What had she missed? Oh, NO! Horror washed over B. Lee in a cruel wave as she realized she had indeed forgotten the ‘D’. Then the magnitude of this error truly hit her.

Her perfect record was ruined. Not just this year’s, but forever. Thanks to this error, she would never grow up to claim a perfect academic record. All because of Maud Brindlebee and her disruptive entrance. Humiliation, rage, and contempt were having a screaming contest in B. Lee’s brain, and all three were winning.

Mrs. Toole, her teacher, met her with a sympathetic smile and led her to a seat in the audience, where she would remain for the rest of the bee. It was torture to have to watch someone win the victory which should have been hers. Not to mention hugely embarrassing. B. Lee banks did not lose– EVER. She could feel everyone staring at her. Their whispers were a swarm of mosquitos around B. Lee’s ears. This couldn’t be happening. The ache in her heart rose up through her eyes, and B. Lee struggled with all her might to keep herself from sobbing audibly.

Worst of all, she was seated just behind the frizzy head of Maud Brindlebee.

“You and your horrible can!” she hissed at Maud through tears.

“His name is Poppy,” corrected Maud.


  1. Hey Jen, just a quick thing. I didn't see any of your stuff up on Writeoncon. It's a free online conference and there's lots of good info. Just wanted you to know. :)

  2. Thanks Michele! I am aware of it, but schedule is tight this week; otherwise I'd have jumped at the opportunity. Thanks and good luck if you're participating!

  3. I liked how you jumped right into the story and wove Christopher in. B. Lee comes across as a girl who likes things a certain way, and that way only.

    She still seems old-fashioned to me with wanting solitude, her leather satchel, the Shirley Temple reference and the Bun. However, I think it works for your story. There are plenty of girls like who might enjoy this. And inside, the girl who compulsively wants things a certain way is a girl people can care about. She also seems rather sad and lonely to me.

    I love that she has a coffee stand to make money! How clever of her; she's right, lemons are just cute.

    The only thing you have to be careful of, is having her come across as overly strict and thus lose sympathy with the reader. I think this sentence in particular "This is going to be too easy, B. Lee thought with a smile on her face she couldn’t hide." made it hard for me to maintain sympathy with B. Lee. Somehow I don't enjoy people who smile about others' mistakes, and you might consider taking it out or toning it down because I imagine kids who are teased would feel the same way.

    This sentence, "He then took his place at the podium at the side of stage" is missing a "the" near the end. The only typo I could find, so well done.

    When you first introduce Principal Grimaldi, maybe mention he's a he. For some reason I pictured a she and then the moustache threw me.

    I still love this line for the way it flows: "No, no this could not be, there must be some mistake."

    I look forward to seeing how this evolves next week.

  4. I love the conversation with Christopher. I liked the interaction with others at the Spelling Bee including being reminded to continue.

    I love the that she sits behind Maud.

    You did a great job and I can't wait until next weeks 5 pages.


  5. You have the best names! I actually had to stop and read some of your names aloud to my sister because they are so much fun. I feel like your names have so much character in and of themselves.

    I still feel like B. Lee is very old-fashioned with her hair and fashion choices and calling people things like "silly-hearts." I think it makes her character really stand out. I would just be careful that every character doesn't sound similar, that you do use that precociousness to set her apart. Ramona definitely sounds more like a regular kid.

    There are some sentences where you're telling not showing (again I am still working on this myself, in fact I am rewriting my entire manuscript) and in some it could easily be corrected by ending the sentence sooner.

    For instance:

    “As a matter of fact, yes I am. And can you please not antagonize me for a change?” B. Lee folded her arms over her chest. (in a defensive gesture she hoped would convey attitude.)

    You could add how she stared ahead or avoided eye contact or something to really convey that this is a defensive gesture, etc.

    "Everyone turned to see a disheveled girl who, dragging a tin can on a string, was attempting to creep in unnoticed."
    --if she's trying to come in unnoticed, why is she dragging the can? Shouldn't she pick it up? Or is she just that crazy?

    "Maud Brindlebee, who told tall tales, dressed oddly, got the worst grades and always, always seemed to be stealing attention."
    --This line is in there twice. It's a handful of paragraphs apart.

    I love Maude. This line killed me in the best way possible:
    “His name is Poppy,” corrected Maud.

    I like that she is clearly an oddball but she sets herself very far apart from other oddballs, like Maude. What I would be careful of is making her relatable fairly quickly. I want to know why she is like this. Has her family situation forced her to be very grown up or is this something she puts on herself? And if so, why? We don't have to love her off the bat, but I want to understand her better. Maybe you could drop some hints as to why she is so different from the other kids.

    Hope that helps! Good luck. I'm looking forward to next week.

  6. Great revision. I feel much clearer on the Christopher thing now so thanks! I like the interaction with the other girl, but I'm concerned about two issues. One is if the other girl is too much of a stereotype and also why did the girl sit with her in an empty auditorium if she doesn't like her? LOVE MAUDE.

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  8. Thanks you guys! and if you're curious, look over to the image at the left of my name-- that's Maud. I'm a PB illustrator, trying my hand at writing. Your feedback has been excellent!