Monday, March 10, 2014

1st 5 Pages March Workshop - Rothschild Rev 1

Name: Peggy Rothschild
Genre: Young Adult – Mystery/Crime
Title: Flame

October 1977
I wanted Denny Beech from the first moment I saw him. Tall and lean, wheat-colored hair curled over his shirt collar, while a spiral of smoke drifted from the side of his mouth. I wished I could trade places with the cigarette perched on his lower lip.

Not quite nine o’clock on a Saturday night, the patio thermostat read seventy-eight degrees. The Santa Ana winds, blowing since daybreak, had softened. A film of ash from the brush fire east of town coated the walkway and the air smelled of wood smoke. Andie and I paused to inspect our reflections in the sliding glass door. Kim Bellman’s parents traveled a lot and she hosted most of the parties. We all wished the Bellmans would adopt us.

A quick crowd scan told me I knew everybody in the backyard, except for one. Most of the group had grown up together. A few new people joined our bunch when we entered high school. But by junior year, our set didn’t welcome many new faces. But Denny’s face demanded welcome. Not a pretty boy, age had already burned away the puppy fat to show off high cheekbones and a strong jaw.

I pulled a cigarette from my quilted purse and nodded toward the newcomer. “Who’s that?”

Andie shrugged then looked at me. “Nice to know someone can still catch your eye.” She dug a lighter from her pocket.

I held back my waist-length hair and bent to the flame, then posed, grateful my period ended two days earlier, taking the bloating and zits along with it. “Is it me or is he drop-dead gorgeous?”

“He’s OK.”

“OK?” I glanced up and caught her staring at the new guy. “Oh, you mean like Jeff Jones was just OK? Or Paul Mathers was just OK?”

Andie chuckled. “You got me. Hand to God, that boy is smokin’.”

“Let’s go talk to him.”

She lit her own cigarette. “What’s gotten into you?”

I centered the Ankh pendant between my breasts. “I’m ready for something different.”

David Bowie’s ‘Stay’ began to play. Andie closed her eyes. “God, I love this song.”

I tugged the sleeve of her gauze top.

She shook her head in mock disgust. “The guy’s not going anywhere.”

“Neither’s the song.”

“Like you’re gonna do anything with him.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

She raised an eyebrow. “You and Randall are really over? For good?”

“We are.” Randall and I’d gone steady – off and on – since we met in ninth grade. For over two years, he’d been the center of my world, with most our ‘off’ times resulting from fights about sex. After last year’s Harvest Moon dance, everyone at school thought Randall and I finally sealed the deal. I hadn’t even told Andie that, once again, I’d shut him down. In spite of his lies to the contrary. I met Andie’s gaze and shook my head. “It’s over. That boy needs to grow up.”

“And if he does? You’ll take him back? Again?”

“Never going to happen. He’s the original Peter Pan.”

“We’ll see.” Andie stared at the group of boys. “But,” she pointed her cigarette at me, “if you wind up running back to Randall, I call dibs on the new guy.” She started walking across the Tiki torch-lighted yard. “Hell, if you didn’t need some post-break up fun – and hadn’t spotted him first – I’d take the guy behind the Bellmans’ barn tonight.”

“Guess I’ve got something to thank Randall for after all.”

Andie grinned at me. “This’ll be fun. It’s been awhile since I got to play pimp.” She pantomimed adjusting an imaginary hat. “You ready?”


Andie strode with a self-assurance I only pretended to own. Maybe because she’d actually slept with a few boys. I took a deep breath. By the time we reached him, we held the new guy’s attention, plus the two others standing with him. I nodded at Chris and Jason, grateful Randall wasn’t hanging out with them tonight.

“Hey,” Andie said.

The guys gave a chorus of heys. Chris said, “Get you a beer, Foss?”

I turned to him. “Thanks.”

Andie held up her hands and shot him a wide-eyed ‘what-the-hell’ look. “Hello,” she sing-songed. “I’ll have a beer, too.”

“Shit, Andie, I knew you’d want a beer.” Chris slouched off toward the ice-filled tub.

Jason signaled for me to give him a cigarette. I dug one out of my purse.

Andie smiled at the new boy. “I’m Andie Greeley. This is my friend Beth Foss.”

“Denny Beech.” He nodded first at Andie, then me.

I gave him a half-smile and waited for Andie to continue carrying the conversational ball.

“You new around here?”

“I’m visiting. Staying with my aunt and uncle.”

“How long?”

Before Denny answered, Chris returned with beers for Andie, Jason and me. “What’d I miss? Anything earthshaking?”

“Nah.” Jason grabbed a can, “Andie’s grilling Denny. Getting all the dope.”

“Speaking of dope,” Chris said, “one of the guy’s is bringing some Maui Wowie later.”

“Excellent,” Andie said. “Now, let me get back to work. I believe we’d gotten as far as: How long will you be here? In spite of Chris’ interruption of our quiz show, there’s still plenty of time to win valuable prizes for the correct answers.” She winked at me.

The way she emphasized ‘valuable prizes’ set my cheeks aflame. I hoped Denny didn’t catch her drift. I swigged some beer then looked at him. He appeared amused and didn’t seem to realize Andie was getting ready to pimp me.

Denny shrugged. “It’s on a ‘we’ll-see-how-it-goes’ basis.”

I pegged him as a rebel, kicked out by his parents. Was his a minor rebellion or something major? Major rebellion was romantic, but minor rebellion remained more my speed.

Andie pointed at Denny’s companions. “How’d you hook up these jokers?”

Chris spoke up. “You and Foss writing a book or something?”

“Oh come on. When’s the last time somebody new came to one of Kim’s parties?” Andie turned back to Denny. “So, how’d you meet them?”

Denny smiled. His face transformed from good-looking to movie star handsome. I snapped my mouth shut and tried not to look like I’d started to drool.

He flicked his cigarette butt into the Bellman’s rock garden. “I work with Chris at the Hen House.”

“We love that place,” Andie said. “Part of that’s ’cause we love leaving a mess for Chris. I guess we gotta start acting tidier if you’re bussing tables, too.” She smiled then gave a quick hair toss.

“I’m back in the kitchen. Mostly washing dishes, but Ed lets me run the griddle some.”

“I’ll be sure to order the pancakes next time. See how tasty your handiwork is.”

I widened my eyes at her. Andie’d abandoned her imaginary purple hat in favor of a shark fin. Best friend or not, I needed to speak up. Soon. If I didn’t, Andie would charm him and Denny would think me simple or mute. “How long have you been in town?” I faced him, both barrels visible, the only way for sure I could best Andie.

“Four weeks now. Came up at the start of September.”

I nodded. “Like it so far?” Denny grinned and my insides melted.

“I like it better now.”

Denny turned his handsome face my way and never looked back at Andie. Or any other girl. After about thirty minutes hanging out with the group, he took my hand and led me to one of the log benches set back from the light and the heat of the fire pit. There Denny leaned forward to kiss me and I met him halfway. His lips touched mine and a spark warmed my heart and stomach then made a beeline to my crotch. I leaned back and looked at him. One kiss and I was already hooked.

When Denny invited me to go for a ride, I left Andie and the party without a backwards glance.


  1. Hi,
    I continue to love this, and the way you write. So succinct and with great flare. I can picture the scene and the players very well. The line "I knew you'd want a beer" tells us so much in just a few words about the girls, their rep, their relationship to the other boys. It's great! Just a few small edits - When they introduce, Andie saying "my friend Beth Foss" seemed unnatural. Perhaps get rid of "my friend' since it's obvious. After "I let Andie carry the conversational ball", I would have like an "as usual" or something like that, because otherwise I wondered why she did that. When she thinks "I hope Denny didn't catch her drift" I also wondered why she'd think that, since she's made it clear she wants him to the reader, so wouldn't she hope he'd catch the drift? You're missing a WITH in "hook up with jokers". The sentence "Denny smiled. His face transformed..." might work better if you say "With a smile, Denny's face transformed..." That's all I got, cause I really like it!

  2. Peggy, you've done a nice job with this revision! I have a better sense of Beth now, and the dialogue is still spot on - so natural! I already feel like I know the characters and the dynamics in these few pages. Since this is a mystery/crime, I wonder if you could bring in a little more intrigue in these five pages. Right now it reads to me as romance. There is a little mystery around Denny and why he's here, but maybe you could heighten it. You want to accomplish 3 things in these pages - show you can write (you've done that!) let the reader know what kind of a book they're reading, and stand out against other submissions or books. I think if you work on the second, the third will be even stronger.

  3. Peggy,

    Nice job on this rewrite.

    I actually liked the 'envied the cigarette on his lip' from the first post, though I understand the confusion and need to clarify. Now, however, I find 'I wished I could trade places with the cigarette' kind of awkward. What if she simply longed to be the cigarette wedged between his (perfect?) lips? Or 'I wanted to trade places with the cigarette.'

    I like Andie's game show spiel, but would this flow better?
    'After a word from our sponsor, we now return to our regularly scheduled quiz show. Denny Beech here is primed to win valuable prizes (italics).' I'd end with an emphasis on prizes since that is really more important than the answers.

    Also with the idea of flow. 'I'll be sure to order pancakes next time. I'd love a piece of your handiwork.'

    Does Denny react/notice when Beth turns 'both barrels' on him, before he answers her question?

    What does Denny ask Beth to go for a ride in/on?

    You've done a great job with setting and characterization. If this is a mystery, I'd like to see a hint of that.

    Keep it up.


  4. Wow with just some small changes this is so different. There's still all the stuff I really liked from last week, but it's like you added another layer on top of it all. Because you really played up the closeness and familiarity of the girls, it has an entirely different feeling. I love it. I no longer am wondering why Beth is just hanging back. My only suggestion would be this--if Denny is indeed part of the mystery, perhaps you could have him be slightly more evasive. Admittedly, I'm not a big mystery person, but it seems you might want a hint at the mystery to come in the first five pages. Otherwise I think this is great.

  5. Hi Peggy!

    I still love your setting--the retro details make it special, but the high school party atmosphere is pretty timeless. I love the details, and I love that we get such a good picture of who Beth and her friends are--small town cool kids with tight friendships and long histories.

    I'm still looking for a hint of mystery bigger than "Denny was maybe kicked out by his parents." It's an intriguing detail, and Beth's reaction to the possibility is really telling of her character, but it doesn't feel like the start of a mystery--it feels like the start of a summer romance.

  6. Thank you all for the feedback. I haven't figured out how to get to the murder and arson story line (cat's out of the bag) sooner, but I'm looking for ways to foreshadow the danger ahead. Hopefully inspiration will strike! Thanks again.