Monday, September 23, 2013

1st 5 Pages September Workshop - Rothschild Rev 2

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.”

“So you’re shipping me off to Grandpa’s?” Tears burned my eyes. “I screw up and you send me away? How is that fair?”

“Fair? You want to talk about fair?” The roar of his voice made my head throb. “In a fair world, I’d have two daughters. In a fair world, you’d have two parents. Life isn’t fair. You should know that by now.” He strode to the door then turned, a grimace twisting his face. In the half-light, he no longer looked like my dad.

“Get packed. And brush your teeth. Your breath stinks of smoke and Schlitz.”

I stumbled out of bed, tottered to the closet and pushed aside the shoes piled on top of my duffle bag. Dad knew me, knew I wouldn’t dig in my heels. I was a wheedler and a runner, but not a fighter. I clenched my hands, trying to stop their trembling. 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. Though groggy and queasy, I must’ve 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 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. I slid a glance his way; he looked mad enough to chew concrete. Better wait until he calmed down before I tried pleading my case.

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 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, every mile bringing me closer to a summer with Grandpa. So unfair. Still, when Dad was good and pissed, yelling back never fixed things. That much I knew. Maybe I could talk him 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. A horn blared. 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 this was fixable. “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 un-” I caught myself. I didn’t want to hear another rant about fairness. “Uncool.”

Dad snorted. “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. But his gray-green eyes were a match with Dad’s. Grandpa’s 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. WONDERFUL addition:
    “Fair? You want to talk about fair?” The roar of his voice made my head throb. “In a fair world, I’d have two daughters. In a fair world, you’d have two parents. Life isn’t fair. You should know that by now.” He strode to the door then turned, a grimace twisting his face. In the half-light, he no longer looked like my dad.

    Suggest making this a new paragraph:
    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.”

    (the reason for this suggestion is that I missed that she went from thinking to speaking, then stopped and reread and almost did it again)

    I might like a transition before:
    I jerked awake, stared out of the dirt-spattered window. (I didn't notice this before, but this time it stuck out a little)

    The above are picky little things, I know, but you write so well (and have already revised twice), so I'm getting hard pressed to find anything new to write about.

    Really good character development right away in this. Wondering what will happen to her--hopefully she'll grow up! :.) (and perhaps realize that a cheater boyfriend isn't worth the time of day...a good lesson to learn RIGHT AWAY in life! )

  2. Great job! I totally buy her reactions now. I love "chew concrete" too.

  3. Hi Peggy,

    Your revision adds some effective resistance at the beginning. And I love the backstory in dad's thoughts on fairness.

    Small suggestion: In that new paragraph, you could consider breaking up dad's dialogue with some action or a change of tone. Also, I'd like to feel Nicki's reaction to his words.

    Best of luck! This is such a strong start to your novel.


  4. Hi Peggy,

    Very nice!
    This is a lot more streamlined.

    So it wasn't immediately clear to me whether her dad is a quiet angry person or a loud angry person.
    For example, when you say: "The roar of his voice made my head throb" that seemed a bit jarring because leading up to it, he seemed the insidious quiet type with at least outward control of his temper. Maybe build up a bit further and let Nicki react or notice that her dad was really really serious and angry (not just yelling for the sake of it) this time round?

    The shrinking family reference combined with her dad saying "In a fair world, I'd have two daughters" is an incredible hook. Maybe have Nicki react to that? Did she lose a sister? Is she sad about it? Resentful?

    All best,

  5. Small question: The dad says that grounding her isn't working. So she's been grounded? but he hasn't let on that he knows she snuck out two weeks ago?

    I like that we see her silence as a tactic, but I wish you could show us that more than tell us. If she's sulking, we'll know it.

    I agree that I love the new paragraph. I like the idea of her not recognizing him.

    I am really sorry my notes are so late. I appreciate the notes you've made on my revisions. Best of luck!

  6. Thanks for all the feedback -- the workshop has been very helpful.