Monday, March 17, 2014

1st 5 Pages March Workshop - Rothschild Rev 2

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

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

Not quite nine o’clock on a Saturday night and the patio thermostat still read seventy-eight degrees. But 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 us 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.”

“You’re not gonna take him back? Again?”

“No way. Not this time.”

“We’ll see.” Andie stared at the group of boys. “But, if you wind up running back to Randall,” she pointed her cigarette at me, “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 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.” She winked at me.

The way she emphasized ‘valuable prizes’ set my cheeks aflame. The whole idea behind our pimp routine was to talk up the ‘pimpee’– without looking too obvious.

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

My stomach gave a tiny flutter. The guy didn’t live at home. He was definitely older. I’d never gone after someone who wasn’t in high school. I tried drowning my nerves with a swallow of beer.

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 I get to run the griddle sometimes.”

“I’ll be sure to order the pancakes next time. I’d love to taste your handiwork.”

I widened my eyes at Andie. She’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.” Denny’s attention shifted to about eight inches south of my chin. “Came up at the start of September.”

I nodded. “Like it so far?” Denny grinned and my insides melted. Then his gaze met mine.

“I like it better now.”

Denny 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 pulled away and looked at him. One kiss and I was already hooked.

“So, why Ventura?” I said when I caught my breath.


“Why’re you here instead of living with your folks?”

Denny raised my palm to his lips and kissed the fleshy area at the base of my thumb. “Got into a little trouble at home. This is supposed to be my ‘big chance at a fresh start’ – or something like that.” He squeezed my hand. “Why don’t we go for a drive? There’s something I’d like to show you.”

I left Andie at the party without a backwards glance.


  1. Hi,
    I'm still completely hooked and loving this and wish I could read more. I like the tiny changes you incorporated based on feedback. The only comment I have is when they're on the log and she asks him why he's here instead of home, I'd expect him to be slightly cagier about his response. Maybe instead of directly telling her "I'm a bad boy and this is my second chance", just hint at it in some believably alluring way - which would be more in his character. And would be easier for us to believe that this otherwise good girl would drive off with bad boy just because he's a good kisser.
    Great job!

  2. Peggy,
    I agree with Merriam, especially about the scene on the log. Maybe he should answer her question at the end with the question and statement: Why don't we go for a drive? I want to show you something.

    Nice job.

  3. It's a good revision. I agree with the ladies above--we want a hint of mystery, but I don't think he should announce himself as the new resident bad boy. Also, the fact that he's ogling her breasts and her insides melt as a result bugged me. But, I guess it fits with her character given that she's never told anyone she never slept with her former boyfriend. I just imagined her ducking down to make eye contact--him being caught in the ogling. Nice job. Good luck!

  4. Peggy, excellent job! I want to keep reading and find out what happens! I do agree with the others, a little less - I got into trouble (so much trouble my parents kicked me out) but how about a drive? Especially since she is cautious (she had to be asked about a beer, she didn't sleep with boyfriend) Him being a bit cagey would be better. She could even think to herself to ask a follow up question, but he could kiss her again, and she could ignore it or something. Or have a little more conflict about going for the ride, but ultimately deciding to go. Good luck with this!

  5. Not a lot to pick at here! You've really polished it up, and the subtle changes are definitely working for me. I think you could afford to make Denny a little more mysterious at the end, but other than that (which others have already pointed out), I'm hooked. Great job and good luck!

  6. Hi Peggy,

    I'm so sorry, but I just checked and evidently the suggestions I had forwarded to Jan for posting while I was on vacation didn't make it to you. I'm copying them here:

    Hi Peggy,

    I LOVE the changes you¹ve made. You¹ve done a fantastic job tightening and
    bringing up the action, and as a result, I¹m now feeling the urgency to
    read on. It¹s a fabulous edit. In addition to making it a faster read
    without losing anything, the cut down puts the focus much more squarely on
    Beth. She reads as a more active, present, and interesting character, and
    the self-deprecating humor of lines like 'minor rebelling remaining more
    her speed¹ stand to and sweep us firmly into her corner.

    Your writing is excellent throughout this, but while I appreciate the
    period details, I feel like perhaps you are giving them to us in too close
    a concentration when it comes to the Ankh pendant, the gauze top, the
    David Bowie song, and the tiki-torch. They¹re all great details, but
    sliver them through the story, and also think about how you can better
    integrate them so that they don¹t violate voice/POV. Would Beth think of
    pulling the sleeve of Andie¹s gauze top, or would she think of it as
    pulling the gauzy sleeve of Andie¹s top? Would she think of the lighting
    as tiki-torch lit, or would she notice the light cast by the tiki-torches
    wavering in the Santa Ana winds? Perhaps it¹s neither of those, but word
    choice here is important because the details feel a little authorial
    instead of intrinsic to Beth¹s view of her own familiar world.

    Now, one additional question for you. If the story is heading into a bad
    place, I¹d almost love a little bit more of a hint of that. We¹ve yet to
    truly establish tone or story question as strongly as I think you could
    hit those points. And if the story is heading into a dark place, then this
    is likely fine. If however, Denny is a good guy‹or mostly, possibly a good
    guy‹then be wary of the signal that you¹re sending by displaying her
    breasts and immediately having him become interested. IF he¹s going to be
    a good(ish) guy then I¹d love to see Beth provide some outward sign of her
    humor or personality to interest him before she resorts to the purely
    physical lure. She could still wonder, or misunderstand, what caught his
    attention. And the reader would also wonder, which would up the desire to
    find out.

    Looking forward to reading the next revision!

    All best,


  7. Apart from the above, which still apply, I agree with the others on the present revision. Right now, it feels a bit as though your mc has made a decision to change her entire outlook/code of behavior at this party, but it feels as though we are missing the motive for that and we're only extrapolating her goal through her modified behavior. We don't know her well enough for that to work, and as a result, while the passage is wonderfully written, it doesn't feel grounded enough for me to be swept along into the story yet.

    I'm going to check with Jan to see whether she emailed my comments to you last week. But if she didn't, and you'd like to take me up on it and make any of the changes I suggested, feel free to email me the revision. Again, I'm so very sorry!

  8. Thank you everyone for all the feedback -- I appreciate the close reading you gave each revision.