Monday, April 14, 2014

1st 5 Pages April Workshop - Litwin Revision 2

Name: Laurie Litwin
Genre: Middle Grade Contemporary
Title: Bee Stadium


Harrison Templeton has a big fat head. Thankfully I sit right behind him. When I slouch, Mrs. Cooper, my seventh-period Language Arts Teacher, can't see a single hair on my entirely proportionally-sized head.

My right knee taps in time with each second - thirty minutes to go. I've been waiting for-freaking-ever for the first day of baseball practice. This year we might go all the way to the Little League World Series.

"Can anyone tell me from what point of view the Red Badge of Courage is written?" Mrs. Cooper asks, pacing in front of the white board wielding a dry erase marker like a bayonet.

Ugh. I'd rather eat moldy broccoli than read this book.

They should let us read something cool, like The Boy Who Saved Baseball or The Wild Pitch. Heck, I kind of even liked Holes. All this talk of themes and symbolism makes me want to poke my eye out with my number two pencil.

I duck out of her line of sight. She's going to call on someone to read out loud soon.

“Jake?” Hearing my name shouted shakes me out of my thoughts.

“What?” My voice comes out high, like a girl. I push myself upright and shrug my shoulders.

Next to me, Kyle Filbert snickers, his black hair flopping forward and covering one of his eyes like a pirate's eye patch. I shoot my arch-enemy a dirty look and ball my hand up into a tight fist under my desk. Sometimes I really want to punch the jerk in the face. But Mom would be super mad at me if I did.

“I asked you to read the first paragraph of chapter three out loud to the class,” she says slowly, lifting her eyebrows at me. Or, should I say, eyebrow. She has one thick brown eyebrow that crawls across her forehead like a caterpillar.

She picks on me because I have a harder time reading aloud than the other kids. It’s not fair.

I sigh as loud as I can and tap my hand on my leg. Praying for time to speed up so I can get out of this nightmare.

"Henry ... uh .. himself ... I mean ... he ... wal ... k ... walked by ... him ... self into ... uh ... into the ... uh ... dark ... nessss ... darkness." The words are jumping around as I try to read them. I wipe my palms on my jeans.

I peer two inches to the right, around Harrison's watermelon head, at Mrs. Cooper. His hair is sticking straight out on one side, like he battled with the hair gel and lost.

"Continue, Jake."

I take a deep breath, fiddling with the baseball hat in my lap. I have to keep it hidden under my desk because Mrs. Cooper won't let me wear it in class. Last week she kept it for a whole day when I forgot to take it off before I walked into the classroom.

"He ... he ... down ... um ... I mean ... he lay down ... in ... uh ... in the ... in the grass ... sorry ... no ... and ... felt ... sorry ... for ... uh ... him ... self ... himself." I'm sweating so much I could fill a bucket.

"Thank you, Jake. Kyle, please start where Jake left off." She paces back and forth.

My shoulders slump forward and I drop my head.

As Kyle reads, I turn my head and look out the window. If I squint my eyes enough, I can see the baseball diamond on the other side of the big grassy field.

The smell of fresh cut grass fills my nose and I can hear the ump yelling "Batter up!"

I tune out as kid after kid reads out loud and twenty excruciating minutes later, the bell rings.

As I'm standing up, Mrs. Cooper calls out, “Pick one of the major themes in The Red Badge of Courage and tell me how it relates to your life – I want one typed page by Monday morning. And the practice spelling bee will be tomorrow. Don’t forget to study the word list I handed out last week.”

I freeze in my seat, like I got sucked into a black hole.

The spelling bee?

NO!

I hate spelling. I hate spelling bees even more. Last year I got the easiest, girliest word ever: Tulip. Of course, I spelled it T-O-O-L-I-P. Everyone laughed. I wanted to hurl.

I can't put myself through that kind of humiliation again.

I pull my baseball hat free from my belt loop and shape the bill between my palms, the field is calling me.

Batting seventh ... Number 11 ... Jake Evans.

I forget all about the bee. Until I get two steps from the door.

"Jake!"

I stop so fast my sneaker squeaks on the floor. My momentum propels me forward and I flap my arms like a bird so I don't fall on my face.

When I turn, Mrs. Cooper's holding a sheet of paper in front of her. I shuffle my way to where she's standing and take it from her. There's a red D glaring at me.

My stomach drops into the basement.

I stuff it in my backpack, groaning.

Mom's going to murder me and feed my insides to the seagulls.

"I understand today's the first day of baseball practice," she says, putting one hand on her hip and jutting her chin out to the side, toward the baseball field.

"Uh, yeah." I take a step backward toward the door. I wanna jet outta here so bad.

"You're very close to failing my class. If your grade falls any lower, you won't be able to play baseball."

My breath gets caught in my throat and I croak, "Huh?" I try to swallow, but it's like there's a huge wad of bubble yum stuck there. "No way," I squeak.

My face burns hotter and hotter the longer I stand here.


She stares at me so hard I'm surprised I don't combust.

"The school has an understanding with the little league program. A failing grade means no baseball," she repeats, saying the words super slow, like I'm hard of hearing. I can hear her fine, I just don't like what she's saying.

"Is there anything I can do. Extra credit, or something." My voice rises. I probably sound like a girl.

As she pauses, the caterpillar above her eyes wiggles.

"I'll tell you what. If you place in the top three in the classroom spelling bee next week you'll advance to the school spelling bee.

If you do that, I'll give you enough extra credit points to raise your grade one level."

My heart stops beating and I feel dizzy. I grab a desk to steady myself.

"Is there anything else I can do?" I barely eek the words out. Please say yes. "I'll volunteer to read out loud every day for the rest of the school year." I pause. "Anything but spelling. The letters jumble up in my brain and I have a hard time getting the order right."

"Study harder. Make flash cards. Have a friend quiz you. Also, put some thought into today's assignment. You're a good writer, so write a good essay. That'll help you out, as well. Otherwise, winning the spelling bee is your only option for extra credit."

8 comments:

  1. Wow! I really like this opening. Jake’s focus on the baseball is coming through as the main theme now, with the reading / spelling problems feeling a bit more subtle.

    The timeline also seems a lot more realistic now. One little tweak I suggest to add/relocate a bit of baseball daydreaming right before his name is called. It feels like it is needed there, especially since he says it shakes him out of his thoughts. Also, looking ahead, it feels like one night is never going to be enough time for him to learn those spelling bee words. But than just ramps up the tension.

    The conversation with his teacher as he is leaving class could be tightened a bit. I think you can lose, “No way” since this confused me as it suggests he has never heard of this rule or doesn’t understand it. “As she pauses” doesn’t need the “as,” etc. Grabbing the desk seems a bit too much. On a side note, I think there is a typo on “bubble gum.”

    I would suggest you look at the line he says to the teacher near the end about letters jumbling, etc. I am a teacher and I have never had a student with such problems be so self-aware. By that I mean that they do not realize that what they are experiencing is not normal and therefore I think Jake would likely just say something like, “I’m not good at spelling.” Unless he has been diagnosed and is receiving help, then he might start using phrases like that.

    Finally, I did not get the comparison between being frozen and being sucked into a black hole. Not that I know anything about black holes…

    All in all a really solid start for a MG novel. What Jake wants is clear. We know what is standing in his way. The stakes are there. Well done!

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  2. Hi Laurie,

    First of all, great work here. It's clear that you took the comments to heart. There are a few things you should look at just in terms of ensuring it's as polished as it can be. I know you didn't have a lot of time to revise this, and when you have more I'm sure you'll go over it with a fine-tooth comb to catch any typos and misplaced commas and hyphens. For example, you don't need a hyphen after proportionally because it's an ly word, bubble gum, etc. I'm not worried about these things as I know it's just a time constraint but I did want to mention it.

    For the substantive elements, you do a great job of cutting the repetition that was here and tightening things up. I still don't think we get his grade/age, which would be great to put in here. I think if you eliminate the line where he says he's shaken out of his thoughts that would be better and solve the problem that Sylvia mentions about the baseball deviation in his mind. Instead you could have him react to his name being called. Like groaning or his heart fluttering or his palms already sweating, something like that.

    I'd still be a little careful of having too much. When he says "what?" The line about his voice coming out high like a girl’s is fantastic and I don't think we need anything after it. Having too many elements takes away from the great ones that are there. One beat for each dialogue line is sufficient.

    Since I'm unsure of age, the line about mom being super mad doesn't seem to fit. I think I would cut that because it sounds too young and actually takes away from that paragraph.

    I like the line about sweating so much that he could fill a bucket!

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  3. I wonder if you could make a better connection between his poor reading and his love of baseball. Perhaps after Kyle reads you could say something about Kyle reading so perfectly and then say something like "but he can't catch a fly ball" or whatever Jake does best on the field — that way we get the sense, I think, of Jake turning to baseball because he is good at that and it doesn't involve schoolwork which he's not as good at. If you do it subtly I think it might be a nice transition and add some depth. It also could be good to be a little less spot on, for example, instead of saying that he tuned out you can transition from him seeing the big grassy field and smelling the grass to a line that would be more like "I leave this hard metal seat and in my mind spend the next excruciating 20 minutes on the baseball diamond. I almost most miss the bell ringing." Something better than that but just adding a bit more to round out what you are saying. I know it's middle grade you don't want to go overboard but I think there's room to do a bit more in a lot of these instances.

    Take a look at your dialogue with Mrs. Cooper. I feel like that could be better. It feels like a lot of telling. And I know she's a teacher and she's giving instructions so that's inherent in some of that, but see if there is a way to give her more personality and perhaps have it be not as direct as it is. For example even dropping the "I want" before “one typed page” is a bit more how people speak. I realize an English teacher might be more exacting but something about this dialogue doesn't feel realistic enough.

    Take a look at your timing and where you have some things here. The bell rings, then the teacher mentions a spelling bee, then Jake touches his baseball hat and forgets about the spelling bee until he gets to the door seems like way too short of a time for this to happen. A couple of steps from desk to door?

    Another example of perhaps too many things in one paragraph is the sneaker squeaking paragraph. One or two elements here would be enough rather than basically three elements saying the same thing. Same with him stuffing the paper in his backpack and groaning. I think that line takes away from the one before it and the one after it and the whole passage could be stronger without. Again, these are even just further tightening elements that you could think about.

    I wonder if the last paragraph with Mrs. Cooper can also be changed. I'm not exactly sure what her personality is — does she hate him and think he's a slacker? Is she concerned that he's a good writer but doesn't seem to be doing well otherwise? Right now I'm just unsure of the read on her and I'd like to get a little better perspective into how she sees Jake.

    This really is great work and I hope these comments help you push it even further along when you're ready have!

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  4. I love your latest! This reads fast and makes me want to read more. Just a few thoughts:

    You could use a transition to ducking out of her sight and being shaken from his thoughts, because he wasn’t thinking about baseball, he was thinking about reading aloud. Or move the reading aloud line to above the Ugh line.

    While I like him comparing his voice to a girl’s, maybe only us it once in the first five pages. The repetition loses impact for me after the first time; shake it up with something else that’s funny.

    Maybe a thought about forgetting all about the spelling bee after she mentions it would transition easier into him hating it. Otherwise, I’m not sure why it comes as a surprise, since it must have been mentioned several times in class, and while he gets distracted by baseball, he’s aware enough of what’s going around him.

    I’d love an idea of how he plans to avoid the humiliation of the spelling bee. He sounds determined to avoid it. Maybe a quick thought: Maybe I can be sick, or . . .

    Other than that, it looks great!

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  5. Hi Laurie,
    You trimmed it up nicely though I agree with the previous critiques on timeline: like when he's expecting the teacher to call out a name but then she has to shout and repeat herself to get his attention. And then when he forgets about the bee so fast. Is this intentional to show us how distracted he is?
    I like Ms. Lori's suggestion on mentioning something Kyle is bad at, like baseball. Or maybe hint to why they're arch enemies?
    A couple of places that could be cut:
    Drop "my head" bc it's mentioned in the previous sentence. "As Kyle reads, I turn to look out the window."
    "Tight fist" seems redundant. Perhaps, "... ball my hand into a fist..." ( dropping the "up" too)
    I agree with Martha's comment about the "like a girl".
    Mrs. Cooper seems to be a pretty rough, uncaring teacher when, in response to Jake telling her he has a problem, her response is "study harder". Ouch.
    The second time Jake says, "Is there anything else I can do", I'd cut that out all the way to "say yes" and just begin with the dialog, "I'll volunteer...."
    I wondered how he could be a good writer if he has such a difficult time reading? Does he have someone else writing for him and that how he's gone undiagnosed for so long

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    Replies
    1. *that should read undiagnosed with a learning disorder for so long?

      Keep up the good work!

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  6. Very very interesting! Love this opening!

    XOXO!

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  7. Hello, Laurie! This revision shapes Jake as a character more clearly, and that makes it an improvement in my book.

    As Sylvia noted, this introduction brings Jake's love for baseball into the spotlight much faster and much more forcefully. The prose around it is tightened, which helps to focus more on the sports aspect. However, if you didn't intend to do this and wanted Jake's reading problems to be important as well, you may need to adjust this balance in a later draft.

    It could be helpful to define who Jake is more afraid of - his mother or Mrs. Cooper. While he does mention that his mom will be mad at him if he does such-and-such bad thing, Mrs. Cooper seems to figure much more heavily into his problems.

    Before he's called on, Jake should most likely be thinking about baseball - some of his thoughts should be focused on that. Otherwise, he seems too aware that Mrs. Cooper is going to call on someone, in which case he would hear what she had asked him.

    In the paragraph starting with "I take a deep breath", I think the information about the baseball cap may be a little too much. Cutting that to insert it later and making room for other description could be helpful. This could just be me, though - pacing slows down for me very easily.

    I feel that if Kyle, the "arch-enemy", reads aloud with ease, Jake would express some kind of jealousy or complaint at his rival's skills before resuming his daydreaming.

    After Jake's "NO!" reaction to Mrs. Cooper's announcement of the spelling bee, I don't think he would forget about it completely so quickly. This could be a way of showing that dreaming about baseball takes up all of his thoughts, but I think he would try to avoid coming to terms with it rather than forgetting it.

    When Mrs. Cooper calls his name as he tries to exit the classroom, he probably wouldn't stop so fast. Instead, I would suggest having him take another step towards the door so that she has to call his name again, since he wants to get out of the room so badly.

    I don't think Jake would grab a desk to steady himself - he would most likely try to make his external reaction as subtle as possible.

    Your writing is very quick and snappy, and I wish you the best of luck on your revisions!

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