Sunday, September 15, 2013

1st 5 Pages September Workshop - Walker Rev 1

Name: Ashley Walker
Genre: Middle Grade Adventure
Title: Once Upon a Tiger


When Mei’s mother died, 47 cats attended her funeral.

Some friends came too, of course, and Mother's colleagues from
Chinatown's Cat Clinic. But it was mostly American shorthairs and a
handful of more exotic breeds. Chartreux. Manx. The Siamese even made it.

The cats arrived in carriers and carts, a few on leashes. To each who
rubbed a furry condolence, Mei scratched thanks.

Throughout the service, the cats sat and slept and slinked between Mei's
knees. The Persian groomed, the Sphinx gazed. In the mortuary's glow,
the cats' pupils narrowed into tiny exclamation points. Their yellow
eyes seemed to ask the question: GONE — after only one life?

“Gone, but not forgotten,” the funeral director monotoned.

When he wheeled the coffin away, a post-op Persian wailed. Mei covered
her ears as the cry rasped — pfssst — like a sandpapery goodbye kiss.
Then, reaching down to touch behind his pinna, Mei flooded the e-collar
with tears while her head filled with what was not a question: Mother
can't just GO leave like this!

Cats were her calling and she was always on-call for them. Dr. Jun Chang
was the only one in Chinatown who saw all saw 73 breeds. And not only
that, people brought her rabbits and rodents and retired fighting
crickets. She never turned an animal away... Mei ran a sleeve across
soggy cheeks remembering how some of Mother’s clients didn't pay because
they couldn't pay.

Later, looking back, Mei would say that this was where it started.

The stealing.

What else could she do?

When Jun Chang died, the clinic wouldn't treat the poor animals. No free
tapeworm tabs for the tomcat, no Selederm for scabby Siamese. No one
would administer Advantix to alley cats.

So Mei did. Mei became a cat burglar -- albeit a new kind, one who stole
for cats.


Duì. Bu. Qi…

Mei ran a finger under each character. Lifting the little placard from
the classroom doorknob, she struggled through the translation. Do. Not.

It was a kind of apology. Something said to calm. Blowing bangs off her
forehead, Mei rolled her eyes. She hated calming. And apologies.

Sorry, sorry, sorry. In the months since her mother departed and she
arrived at Pan Chou Academy, Mei had heard 'sorry' so many times . It
was a stupid thing to say. (Unless you killed the corpse.) And as for
‘duì bu qi’, well, saying that about the dead was really rubbing it in.

Mei dropped the placard without reading the rest. As the little sign
smack back against the door, she gripped the handle. There’d be no
apologies of that sort today.

"Sorry, Mei."

Startled, Mei spun around to see her old and only-sometimes friend rush
down the hallway. Wen Wu hopped between newly washed black floor tiles,
reading as she ran. “Sorry, Classroom Closed for Cleaning.” Wen paused
to offer a familiar warning. "Mei, don't make a mess of things."

Mei waved her off with the back of a hand. "I won't even leave a
fingerprint." Then, putting one Converse in front of another, she
entered the empty Culture Classroom. Mei’s heart hammered, but her steps
stayed silent. Smooth. No mess.

But as she wove through the desks toward the Silk Spinning Display,
Mei’s palms went all sweaty and her lips dried up. She stubbed the toe
of her sneaker. Twice.

This wasn't going well. Wasn't very cat burglar-y.

Then again, Mei wasn't stealing for cats this time. Today, ‘for cats’
understated the scope of her crimes... Mei smiled just a little at the
thought of this. It worked, on balance, because ‘stealing’ had been an
exaggeration. It was hardly an offense to sneak back into the clinic for
supplies — Mei had stocked its shelves herself. Ditto for Uncle Shen's
pet shop, where Mei helped herself after the clinic rekeyed the locks.
Though her guardian didn't believe in charity (he wasn't running “a damn
sanctuary”), Mei had kept the offense in the family.

Until now.

Mei stopped, soles screeching, before the Silk Harvesting station.
Forcing a breath — in and out — Mei imagined Jun Chang's fingers
expertly threading a needle, finding a vein. In. Out. Then she made a
swift and surgical swipe. In …

Out, out, out!

Cupped inside curled fingers, the stuff felt as light as air, soft as
silk. But Mei wasn't after the Display's pricey silk, or the means to
make it. She wanted the larvae, the grub, the worms — Bombix mori.

Really, lifting the silkworms was an act of saving not stealing. Once
they spun cocoons, the teacher planned to take the silk and, with it,
the lives of the moths inside. Mei gritted her teeth; she wouldn’t be
accomplice to murder — even tiny ones. Jun never abandoned an animal.
Not cat, not cricket.

As the final bell rang, Mei slipped the silkworms into the box she’d
origamied for the job. Dashing to the door, she peered through the glass
look-through to check her get-away…

Holy cr— cats! The hall was crawling with predators. Host to a whole
pride of middle-age women prowling in search of teachers to set on with

Tiger Mothers.

And Mei had no champion among them.

A growl rose in Mei’s throat. She’d have to sneak out the back, claw her
way over the fence. Anything to avoid Tiger Mothers. Racing to the
window, Mei hoisted it right up and squeezed through. Then, pushing the
pain down with the pane, she made her escape.

Breathless, Mei reached the foggy blacktop behind the school. It was
empty, except for a few girls shivering in games shorts. Perfect. No
sign of the Games Teacher. Mei's heart beat down as she spied the fence
through the mist.

But that’s when Mei heard it. Someone — several someones, in fact — were
walking a few paces behind her, whispering. Though spoken softly, their
words stuck, sure as shed, to the “sty-lish new girl” in her “fur
infested coats” and “Purina perfume”. At Mei’s old school, no one
noticed how she looked. None of the vet techs in the clinic where Mei
home schooled ever gave her a second sniff. But at Pan Chou Academy,
kids sneezed when she arrived. Actual achoos!

When the footsteps stopped, a girl called out, “She’ll Flinch.”

Clutching the silkworm box to her chest, Mei ignored the challenge.

“If she doesn’t …” another began, “Wen will.”

Turning, Mei saw Jasmine Robinson-Lui standing at the head of a circle,
her arm upraised, fingers curled around something. Mei couldn’t leave
Wen to find out what was in that fist. Setting the box down behind the
pack, a growl rumbled in her throat again.

Mei stepped up to her place in the ring of girls she called ‘Ers’.
Fashioned from Mei’s translation of the Chinese word for ‘two’, the Ers
were kids with two names and too much of everything else. The
Smith-Tangs, Chin-Lees and Li-Roberts. Kids with twice the backing of
Mei and Wen. Kids who were richerER, meanER and stupidER. When Mei's
eyes met Wen's, she raised an eyebrow -- Ers?

Wen lowered hers; the answer from beneath Wen’s neatly sheared bangs was
an unmistakable: yes, Ers! And I don’t need your help with them.

But she so did. Wen needed Mei on the blacktop as much as Mei needed Wen
in the classroom.

Mei crossed her arms, feeling a surge of fierce determination to save
her ungrateful friend...


  1. Love the image of "shivering in gym shorts"

    Nice, clear picture of what is happening. Any confusion I had the first time has been very effectively revised. Nice job!

    Like that the bullies have a name which means something -- the ERs

    I'm already sympathetic to Mei's plight. Just worried she'll get busted.

  2. Hi Ashley,

    Great edit. There was a clear sense of place in Ch 1 as Mei sneaks into and away from the classroom.

    So many fun lines -- with Mei scratching 'Thanks', and the GONE -- after only one life. I also enjoyed the cat-like descriptions of Mei - the growl and her clawing her way.

    You may want to look at the 'cry rasped' line -- with the description that follows, I wondered if 'cry rasped' was needed.

    I thought the folding in of ER into the descriptions of the girls worked great.

    Spotted a typo: smack/smacked

    I want to know what happens next.

    - Peggy

  3. Love the revision, you clarified without taking an ounce away from the character. I love the world and MC you've created. Nice job!

  4. Thanks for these comments and questions. It's great to receive this focussed feedback.

  5. Hi Ashley,

    Solid revision - I enjoyed reading it! Mei's motivation is now much clearer, and the series of events in the narrative are less frenetic so that the reader can digest the story while reveling in Mei's charisma.

    Two nits:

    - I think we need a bridge between her zeal for saving cats and for saving all types of animals, even insects. Especially after the statement that she "stole for cats." Are the silkworms the first non-feline creatures she saves?

    - Some of the word choices and sentence structures are too mature for a MG voice, even for more precocious character. For example:
    "Then again, Mei wasn't stealing for cats this time. Today, ‘for cats’
    understated the scope of her crimes... Mei smiled just a little at the
    thought of this. It worked, on balance, because ‘stealing’ had been an


    "understated" and

  6. Could you say "some other friends came too" because I think it might be funny to acknowledge the cats as being her friends. I would also spell out forty-seven. When I see the number with the word "died" I feel immediately that I am reading an obit for someone who is 47. Could just be me...

    I found the phrase "her old and only-sometimes friend" a bit confusing. wasn't sure if the girl was old. I wasn't sure if they were friends on and off (what I assume) At first I thought it was her only friend. Maybe find another way to say what you mean here.

    I agree with the other comments that I had a clearer sense of the action here. You create nice tension. Nice motivation. One tiny thing I'm not clear on: is it the end of the school day? a back to school night? Why are all the tiger mothers there and also the Ers? Also, maybe I'm just assuming it is night because that's when I think burglary would happen. If you could sneak in a time or a bit more context, it'd be even clearer. :)

  7. Sorry my comments are so late.

    I really enjoyed reading this. I think you've done a really great job. Make sure you proofread. I found quite a few errors.

    Great voice, great action, great character. I love the quirky feel to it.

    That being said, maybe it's just me, the prologue makes me feel like you're taking the easy way out. You're doing everything else so well. I'd like to see you try to figure out a way to blend the prologue and chapter 1 together. I don't mind prologues when they are necessary. I just don't think it's necessary here. Just think about it.

  8. Great feedback. I'm excited to revise. Thanks!

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