Wednesday, December 18, 2013

1st 5 Pages December Workshop - Larson Rnd 2

Name: Kim A. Larson
Genre: Young Adult Mystery
Title: Stop Mr. Ryden

The spiral-ringed notebook slips from my fingers and drops to the floor. That woman! She—she was in my dream last night. But who is she? And why is she at Walmart? Is she following me? She should have grabbed a cart that doesn’t squeak if she didn’t want me to notice her.

Unless—I’m supposed to notice her—t o jar my dream into consciousness.

“Earth to Anna.” My best friend Elle waves her hands in front of my face.

I stare at the woman from my dream through a maze of back-to-school shoppers. Is it really her? Tight shirt. Short shorts. But, yeah, it’s her. In my dream she wore a shiny red blouse, white scarf, and navy pants. Like an American flag. She stood next to an open door, against a white backdrop with words written in black letters. Words I can’t remember.


I ignore Elle and watch this woman sort through a bin of marked-down school supplies. This didn’t happen in my dream—but I know what happens next. I nudge Elle’s arm and nod toward the stranger. “She’s going to buy the pack of yellow highlighters.”

The woman tosses markers, note cards, and pens aside before throwing yellow highlighters into her cart.

“Wow!” Elle says. “You’re good.”

“No, not really. I’ve just been here before.”

“Yeah, haven’t we all.” Elle tosses her hair over one shoulder. “Every August—getting new school junk. You think we get our ninth-grade planners here or at school?”

“Seriously, El, I just had another déjà vu.”

“You did?” She bounces into my personal space. “But weren’t you going to stop calling them that?”

“Yeah, but I just can’t say it.” I fidget, too uncertain of my gift and how to use it.

“Practice with me.” Elle cradles my face in her hands, pulling my cheeks up and down, moving my jaw with each word. “Say… Elle, I had another vision.” She drops her hands and rests them on my shoulders.

Uncomfortable, I turn my face away from her warm spearmint breath and from what feels like looking into a mirror—with the exception of her adorable dimples. Our hazel-green eyes and straight blonde hair are identical, but then half the girls I know wear their hair this same way. Yet, it’s still freaky that our two dark-haired dads, though brothers, produced daughters who look so much alike.

“Tell me more!” Elle uses my shoulders as a springboard. “Did more happen? Besides the highlighters?”

“No, that’s it.” A flash of dream resurfaces. “Don’t freak now, El. But she was in my dream last night, too.”

“Really? Buying highlighters?”

“No.” I take a deep breath. Sometimes it’s hard for even me to follow what’s happening. “That was just now in the déjà vu—I mean vision. Last night in my dream she stood by an open door with something written behind her. I wish I could remember what.”

“Yeah, me too. Like how sweet would that be? But what’s up with dreaming and having a vision of…her?” Elle glances over her shoulder and looks this woman up and down. “You think God is trying to tell you something? Like when your dad crashed his car?”

“Maybe.” I scowl.

The only dream I’ve ever had that actually came true was two years ago on the night my mom kicked my dad out of the house. He’d come home drunk again, and Mom had his suitcase packed and waiting outside the front door. She’d done this before, but this time was different. Earlier that day she’d had the locks changed and made me promise not to let him in.

“I still get goose bumps.” Elle shivers. “If you hadn’t had that dream…and prayed, your dad might not be alive.”

“Lucky me.” I cross my arms. He’s all but dead to me anyhow. Dropping out of my life after Mom divorced him. “Lane seven’s shortest.” I rush to get in line and out of this conversation.

After paying for our school supplies, we walk to Elle’s house. Her mom greets us with a plate of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. At the first inhale of the sweet, buttery aroma, my mouth waters.

“Want a warm one with some milk?”

“Mmm, thanks, Auntie Cindy.” The chocolate chips melt and swirl with the lingering grease on my fingers as I gobble the cookie in three bites.

“Do you girls have everything you need for your new school?” Aunt Cindy pours our glasses of milk. The frothy bubbles surface then pop.

“Yeah, Mom,” Elle says, licking chocolate from her fingertips.

“You know it’s not too late to go back to Park Christian, if you want. Uncle Dave and I will gladly pay your tuition, Anna.”

“Thanks, but Mom and I don’t want charity.” That’s my story, anyhow. I take another cookie, break it in two, and dip half into my glass of milk. “This change is finally one I’m looking forward to.” I lie to her and myself.

“We’re supposed to be lights in the world, not hide them under a basket,” Elle says. That’s the verse she used to help convince her parents to let her change schools.

But now, how to be a light? It seems as difficult as getting this soggy cookie into my mouth. A crumbly-milk mixture dribbles down my chin.

Aunt Cindy hands us each a napkin, blue eyes glimmering as she watches us devour her baking. “See, memorizing a verse every week has already paid off, and that’s exactly why you should stay at Park Christian.”

“We promised to keep memorizing, already.” Elle rolls her eyes. “Besides, you let Brandon switch at my age.”

“That’s because of sports.” Aunt Cindy pulls the last sheet of cookies out of the oven. “He had your father’s blessing, not mine. The twins were babies. I was too tired to argue.” She shakes her head. “Sports! You’d think the world revolves around them.”

Elle scrunches her face behind her mom’s back. I don’t have to be prophetic to know what Aunt Cindy will say next—how sports have become the god of this world. Elle rushes to her mom and puts her arms around her. “I love you, Mom.” She looks over her mom’s shoulder and winks at me. “Thanks again for letting me switch and convincing Dad.”

I know Elle says this to keep her mom from ranting, but she’s also sincere. She loves her mom, and I feel a pang of jealousy over their closeness.

“What’s fair is fair,” Aunt Cindy says. “If I didn’t think the two of you had such a firm foundation, I’d have never agreed.” She wipes her hands on her apron. “Well then, how are you set for school clothes, Anna?”

I shrug. Clothes cost money, and a girl thinks twice before spending what she’s made cleaning toilets.

“We just take turns wearing mine,” Elle says. With her hand-me-downs, I’m the best-dressed poor person I know. Elle looks at her mom and nods toward the doorway. “Apron strings…” She uses their code phrase for requesting privacy.

Aunt Cindy rests an arm around my shoulders, the fragrance of apple blossoms overpowering the cookie aroma. “Maybe we need to plan a girls’ shopping weekend.”

I smile to be polite, but shopping? Even if she’s buying, I’d rather hunt worms.

“Maybe,” Elle says. “But later.” She motions more obviously for her mom to leave.

Aunt Cindy unties her apron and lays it on the granite countertop.


  1. Hi Kim,

    Your story is a YA mystery. Mysteries are supposed to start with a dead person or a mystery. The problem is your story should start by some action as in an event that strikes the reader.
    Your novel is called."Stop Mr. Ryden," but you did not introduce Mr. Ryden at all and that's where you could start.
    What strikes me first when I read this passage is the monotony of the tone. It sounds like the first scene of a theater play where the characters explain everything that has happened until now that the spectator is supposed to know in order to understand the play. It sounds artificial.
    There is a large amount of info dump. I am very intrigued by the lady in the vision. That's what grabs me from the start and I want to know who this lady is and what role she will play in the plot. Stay with her. Describe this lady's behavior, something odd she does maybe. If she does not do anything peculiar or is not significant, she is not worth mentioning.
    The friend is fun, but sounds like she is there only to get the back story out.
    Also, you describe the vision twice, one time through a memory and another time when your MC is sharing her vision with her friend. That sounds repetitive.

    I used to have a lot of deja vu when I was a teenager and a lot of kids have these strong intuitions. Like the MC, I was used to them, so I knew they were coming. I would never be so surprised I would drop something on the floor or think the person is following me. Why would the woman put herself in her way voluntarily? That makes your MC sound weird and over reacting. If you go for that, you should clue the reader on something that could motivate her thoughts. Maybe the lady watches her or follows her around the shop.
    Also, the voice sounds too mature to be YA. The way the girls talk, their ideas are mature. It could work for NA, but not YA.
    Maybe get them to giggle. Replace the part where Elle recites verses and where Anna says she does not take charity.
    A teenager would not boast to be wearing hand-me-down clothes. She'd be mad and ashamed. Teens are so much into fashion and think of the peer pressure.
    And some slang would work too as well as a few immature comments.

    I hope something helps
    Happy writing :)

  2. Thanks Sylvie,
    In the future, I'm removing the mystery part from the genre because of other feedback I've received, too. Mystery is one piece of the story but it's more of a spiritual coming of age tale of a young girl dealing with her discovery of spiritual gifts. It's written specifically for a Christian market so I don't want to add slang, and I've read several books where teen characters are pretty clean cut : )

    You've given me things to think about.

  3. Hi Kim,

    I've taught in a very large Christian homeschool co-op and at a Christian university for over a decade. I find your dialogue mostly on par with many of my students, but you could lighten the voice a bit, even without slang. (I'm not a fan of too much slang because it can date a book within a year.)

    I love the idea of a prophetic girl discovering her gifts within a spiritual context. Very interesting.

    Like Sylvie, I wanted more context with her reaction to seeing the woman from her dream. Is it because the only other time one of her dreams came true was with her dad? If so, that shows that this is different from normal. When dealing with paranormal, readers need to be clear about what is normal and what is odd for the character. I'd like a tad more (but not too much) context.

    Tiny thing: when she mentions that Elle is her best friend, you could slip cousin in there too. I had to read the line about two brothers creating similar-looking kids a few times to connect their relationship.

    The biggest confusion for me was about the aunt giving Elle permission to change schools. At first it sounded like her brother got to and she was mad that she couldn't. Then all of a sudden, she's hugging and thanking her mom. I thought she was being kind of sarcastic, as in "Please, Mom, convince Dad." Then I realized that she already had and I was confused.

    So what do both girls want? What is their motivation? If Elle wants to switch schools, it's realized in the first few pages. Why read on? There was no struggle. What does Anna want? What pushes her forward and makes readers root for her? Does she want to be "normal" not gifted? Does she want her dad back? Does she want to stay at her Christian school? (There was a hint to that, but not sure.) Motivation fuels plot, but it also helps us get to know the character and root for the underdog. Give them something to fight for, to work for. Make it hard for them. Make the stakes worth reading on. Parents could be an effective obstacle. Maybe her mom regrets allowing her brother to change and is digging in her heels. Maybe they're being more protective because she's a girl, and she's mad that it's not fair.

    I really like your style. You're adept at adding in internal thought and weaving in backstory. I look forward to seeing where this goes. Thanks for sharing it.


  4. Thanks, Kelly.
    Good questions for me to ponder and try and work into the rewrite. I appreciate your help.

  5. Question to anybody reading this. Are we limited to the 1250 words when we submit a revision? And should we highlight or underline changes so you don't have to read everything again?

    Also, my working title was "Anna, Prophetess of God." The element of a mystery made me change it to "Stop Mr. Ryden." I have several themes running throughout this piece that I'm still struggling to say what it's about.

    What I want it to be about is the journey of this young gal discovering her spiritual gift of prophecy in the context of solving a mystery at school, dealing with forgiving her father for abandoning her, and learning to depend on God instead of herself, plus way more other threads like boyfriend, etc.

    The woman in the dream is part of the mystery so she doesn't meet her until second chapter - she's her teacher - and antagonist. I want to create enough questions and interest to keep readers reading until they learn this.

    Thank for all your help!

  6. I could look at it off workshop if you want and see how you could work this out.
    I like the idea of the story, but maybe you could call it Christian fantasy?

  7. Sylvie,
    I take it the workshop is done? No more submissions? I guess I got in a little late : ) Oh well. Thanks for the offer, but I'll just be done then. Merry Christmas!