Sunday, September 15, 2013

1st 5 Pages September Workshop - Rothschild Rev 1

Name: Peggy Rothschild
Genre: Young Adult
Title: Punishment Summer


“Wake up, Nicki.”

Fingers dug into my shoulders, strong hands shook me. When I opened my eyes, the world tilted. Drank way too much last night. Dad’s face loomed above, pale in the light cast by my bedside lamp. “What time is it?”

He shook his head. “Never mind that. You need to pack your stuff. Now.”


“You’re going to your grandpa’s. For the summer. Get up. Grab everything you’ll need. It’s cold up there. Pack your boots, heavy socks, that wool jacket. You’ve got fifteen minutes.”

Caught between dreaming and reality, I sat up, rubbed my face. Felt real. “Why am I going to Grandpa’s?”

Dad took a noisy breath. “I know you snuck out two weeks ago. And again last night.”


“Don’t. I saw the pictures on Gemma’s Facebook page. Grounding you isn’t getting the job done. Get packed. And brush your teeth. Your breath stinks of smoke and Schlitz.”


Dad knew me, knew I wouldn’t dig in my heels. I was a wheedler and a runner, but not a fighter. Head throbbing, I jumped out of bed, opened the closet and pushed aside the shoes piled on top of my duffle bag. Dad had a short fuse. Over the years, I’d gotten pretty good at hiding the kind of behavior that set him off. I hadn’t seen him this mad since-

My stomach lurched. No. Thinking about that was a mistake. My insides already felt rocky enough. Groggy and queasy, I still set some kind of speed record for packing.

No joke about the time limit. Exactly fifteen minutes later, Dad hustled me outside, my hair uncombed and still wearing pajama bottoms instead of jeans. But I’d stuffed everything I’d need to survive the summer into the duffle and a knapsack. Once I got settled inside the car, it hit me: I’d crossed the line Dad cared about most. A deep crease bisected his forehead. His jaw looked carved from stone. Making Dad mad always gave me the gut-rumbles. I closed my eyes, wishing I could hit ‘rewind’, get a do-over for last night. Hell, the party hadn’t even been fun. At least not for me. Watching Gemma hold hands with my sort-of boyfriend wasn’t my idea of a good time. It was also why I drank so much.

A stay at Grandpa’s looked unavoidable. But, getting sent away for the whole summer because I snuck out twice? Over-react much? Typical Dad move.

To show him I was mad, too, I tried forty-five minutes of stony silence as we sped north. But, since we didn’t talk much at the best of times, I wasn’t sure he noticed the difference. When he pulled off the freeway and into a drive-through south of LAX, he finally spoke. “Here.” He passed me a breakfast burrito then zoomed out of the shopping center, one hand holding his food, the other gripping the wheel.

My stomach still wobbled after last night’s combined beer and tequila binge. Slumped, knees against the dashboard, I nibbled the tortilla where it folded over like an envelope. After the first few tidbits settled, I took a full bite, then stared out at the housing tracts as they blurred by.

North of Bakersfield, tall glass buildings gave way to squat stucco homes. I checked the dashboard clock. Already three hours closer to Grandpa’s. So unfair. Still, yelling wouldn’t fix this. Maybe I could talk Dad into reducing my sentence, only spend half the summer in exile. Get home before Gemma helped Scott forget all about me. I took a deep breath. “I shouldn’t have snuck out and gone to Gemma’s. It was stupid. But I didn’t know it would turn into a party. I only wanted to have some fun.”

“Fun?” The car veered into the next lane. Dad jerked the wheel, bringing us back between the lines. “You and your friends were drinking, smoking pot. I saw the photos.”

I’d rip Gemma a new one for posting those. Talk about stupid.

Oh no. A fuzzy memory took shape: Me laughing my ass off while Gemma and I huddled over her iPhone. Had I been idiot enough to help her? Talk about the dangers of alcohol. “You should see the stuff other kids post.”

“Other kids aren’t my concern. You are.”

Dad gave me a lot of freedom. I chalked that up to his sadness over our Incredible Shrinking Family. But pot and alcohol remained his big constant ‘no.’ When I turned sixteen last year, he grew increasingly rabid on the topic. The result of Single-Surviving-Child Syndrome. OK, not a documentable condition, but real in my world. Maybe I could still fix this. “You’re right. I’m sorry. It was immature.” Dad liked me to strive for maturity.

“Immature? Try stupid. Try dangerous. This isn’t the first time. Or the second. I hoped that you… After what we’ve been through…” He shook his head. “I can’t even talk to you right now.”

So that was that. No turning back. Chugging along in Dad’s Smart Car with everything I owned – well, everything I cared enough about to pack in fifteen minutes – shoved behind my seat and in a knapsack at my feet. Heading to some kind of midpoint for the state: Nowheresville, California. Dad says I met Grandpa when I was four, but I don’t remember. Obviously he didn’t care much about me – he never sent birthday cards or presents. Never called. Not even after the fire.

I jerked awake, stared out of the dirt-spattered window. The two-lane road was empty except for our car parked on the shoulder. No nearby buildings either. Just a lot of trees and bushes. My brain banged against the inside of my skull. Should’ve asked Dad for a soda when we stopped for breakfast. Or not drunk so much last night. “Where are we?”

“Your grandpa’s picking you up here.” Dad checked his watch. “We’re a couple minutes early.”

Must’ve dozed through half the state. Hard to believe I fell asleep with my feet jammed under the knapsack and tension pretzeling my guts. “You can’t be serious about this. I screwed up. But sending me off with a stranger… That’s way too harsh.”

“He’s not a stranger.”

“Right. I feel super-close to the guy. I don’t even know what he looks like.”

“You’re staying with your grandpa. End of discussion.” Dad pulled off his sunglasses and massaged the bridge of his nose. “When he gets here, don’t try to drag things out. He hates coming in to the city.”

I glanced at the dusty road and scrub-covered hills. “What city?” I kicked my knapsack. “This is so unfair.”

“I’m doing this for your own good. Use this summer to grow up. Not play at being grown up – like your friends. Take on some responsibility. Try to figure out who you are.”

“Sending me to Grandpa’s will do that for me?”

“Nicole, nothing and no one’s going to do that for you. You’ve got to do it yourself.”

“Whatever.” I slumped down, which was tricky considering the lack of legroom.

A gray pickup pulled onto the shoulder in front of Dad’s car. Dust filled the air, making it hard to see the driver. When he stepped from the cab, he looked eight feet tall – at least from where I slouched.

“Wait here.” Dad climbed out.

If this meeting went badly, Dad might take me home.

The two hugged.

Crap. Not a good sign reprieve-wise. They talked for a few minutes before Dad signaled me to join them. I sighed. No stay of execution. I yanked my bag from the narrow space behind the seat, hoisted my knapsack onto my shoulder then dragged my feet and the duffle across the dirt.

Grandpa wasn’t actually eight-feet-tall, but he stood well over six. Dressed in a plaid flannel shirt, sleeves rolled to his elbows, ropey muscles showed along his forearms. With his iron-gray hair shooting out around his head, he looked a little crazy. His gaze flitted from me to the highway, like he was anxious to get a move on.

“You’ve grown a lot since I saw you last, Nicole. What are you – five-six, five-seven?”

“I go by Nicki. And I’m five-seven-and-a-half.”

“That all your stuff?”

“Everything I had time to grab.” I glared at Dad. Grandpa hoisted my duffle like it was empty and tossed it into the back of the pickup. I held on to my knapsack.

“Be good.” Dad leaned down to give me a kiss. I turned away. His lips grazed the side of my head. “See you at the end of summer.”

I climbed onto the passenger seat, slammed the door and didn’t look back.

Grandpa made a U-turn then gunned the engine. We rocketed along the empty road. Away from my dad. Away from my life.


  1. Good inclusion:
    Hell, the party hadn’t even been fun. At least not for me. Watching Gemma hold hands with my sort-of boyfriend wasn’t my idea of a good time. It was also why I drank so much

    Just wondering--is the breakfast burrito part of Dad's punishment? Seems like it would church the stomach of someone who is hung over.

    Good inclusion:
    Get home before Gemma helped Scott forget all about me. I took a deep breath

    Overall, really nice beginning. Good what I expect is foreshadowing throughout. Nice characterization. Good tension.

    The only thing I still don't get is the "/-". It throws me out of the story each time that it doesn't just say "I stuck out my tongue at him. Childish, I know." or whatever.

    This looks like a good read. Great title, too.

    1. Hi Ann,

      I'm not seeing the line you mention -- could it be the "I-" where Nicki begins to speak, saying "I", but her dad cuts her off? I didn't see anything else in the text that looked like a /. If that's not it, I've got a rogue typo in the excerpt that I'm not seeing.

      Thanks for the feedback.

      - Peggy

  2. Still love this. But I think I'd move the conversation between Dad and your MC up to the beginning. I get what you say about her personality but I feel like she accepts what's happening way too easily. As in, isn't she shocked? Doesn't she want to clarify or TRY to talk herself out of it earlier? So if she tries that first then does all the other stuff, maybe I"ll buy it better.


    Yes, Peggy, you're so right. It IS an "I" that got cut off. For some reason, my texting mind saw it as a face. Such as below:

    :.) (smiley)
    ;./ (frown)
    ;./- (sticking tongue out)
    and I thought that it wasn't an "I", but a mouth with a tongue sticking out of it. And I couldn't figure out why you would do that. I'm so sorry. What a weird thing my mind did with that. JUST IGNORE ME.

    Love the story you're building.

  4. Peggy,

    Great work on this revision. Each time I read it, I admire the dialog more. Dad's speech and the sensory details you use to show us Nicki's discomfort are wonderful. The elegant descriptions and pacing are still there, plus you've added interest with additional backstory. The IM about Gemma and Scott orients me as to where the summer might go for Nicki. And I'm feeling more of a contrast between the old and new worlds in this revision.

    My suggestion this week is to dig even deeper into the emotions underlying this scene. Nicki is still thinking a lot about strategy. That's natural (and amusing) in places, but the history of the fire is such a powerful engine to drive this and I'd love to feel more of the resulting fear of loss. Possibilities: What if you showed us a father whose daughter had been out/missing all night? What if Nicki stopped trying to reduce her sentence and joined her dad in a moment of regret/remembering?

    I hope these comments and questions are helpful in your revision of a terrific opening.


  5. Hi Peggy,

    Nice revision!
    There's an acute self-awareness and heightened tension. The dialogue with her dad really snaps and buffered by her internal thoughts, it seems so realistic.

    I do think this could be further strengthened by writing in an active voice. E.g., "Fingers dig into my shoulders. I'm being shaken. I open my eyes and the world tilts."

    Does she have any other impressions of her grandfather other than lack of contact? Maybe she can speculate more about her grandfather and father's relationship?


  6. Just a thought. There is so much immediacy with all of the action, I sort of feel like it might work better in present tense. I've never thought that about anything else written in past tense, and I think I'm feeling that way because we are just completely in her head in the moment. (I often write in present tense when I write first person, so it could be my slant on things)
    The phrase "jumped out of bed" seems incongruous with how hungover she's feeling, even if she's rushing, it should be clumsy, not cat-like. Does he know it's Schlitz because it was in the pictures? Because he would have to have an awfully refined palate to be able to tell the brand of beer. ;)
    I got a little taken out of the story with all the talk of height. You could just say that grandfather's tall and imposing. I like him asking her how tall she is. It's like the "oh wow, you've grown," that every adult ever says to a kid when they have nothing else to say (and, yes, now that I have kids, I say it too...) So I like that it's an awkward and obviously small-talk-ish conversation.
    Overall-I'm with Nicki. This sucks. Her life is tough. I'm sort of mad at her dad too! So great job getting in her head and taking me there. :)

  7. Sorry my comments are so late.

    Great job on this! It's very fast paced, maybe too fast? You might try to add in more description or sensory details here and there and see how it works.

    I agree with Lisa about Nicole accepting this too easily. It's not believable the way it's written. Teenage girls argue and manipulate and whine and pout. They don't just pack their shit, throw it in the car, and stay silent for 3 hours.

  8. Thanks for all the helpful feedback. Revisions, here I come!

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