Monday, April 7, 2014

1st 5 Pages April Workshop - Mayberry

Name: Marty Mayberry
Genre: New Adult Contemporary Romance
Title: 100 Kisses

Spotting my ipod on the coffee table, I tugged it from beneath my roommate’s legs. I tapped my foot on the frayed carpet while I dialed up a pavement-slapping mix of U2, Beyonce, and Taylor Swift.

“Going for a run?” Charice stared at the TV, transfixed with a bare-chested man brandishing a spear. She tore her gaze from the Survivor rerun long enough to glance my way, her deep brown eyes widening in her caramel face. “Girl, you look smokin’ in those black, stretchy-leg things. I should take up exercise. Might meet some cute guys.” The package by her side crackled, and she lifted a cookie to her lips. “I’m porkin’ out here.”

“Perseverance, Charice. You start with one run and somehow find the will for another.” I grinned and nudged her thigh. “Before you know it, you’re proud to sport spandex.”

“That’s too much effort.” Grabbing another cookie, she peeled it apart, revealing the thick, creamy center. Her pink tongue darted out to lick the frosting, and a blissful expression suffused her face.

I groaned.

Forget it, Madison. Don’t risk falling down the slippery slope of cookie overindulgence. Like a junky in need of a fix, you’ll stuff your mouth in a blind blur, only to wake with your nails scrambling along the bottom of the package, crumbs dusting your chest, your stomach churning from carb overload. You’ll have to run for hours. Forty minutes is bad enough.

“What time does your flight leave tonight?” she asked.

“10:40. I’m meeting my cousins at Logan.” I wanted to collapse to the ground every time I thought about my upcoming archaeological dig in Rome. I’d scored an opportunity my fellow USM classmates would kill for, even if the stipend would barely pay my fall tuition. An entire summer piecing together amphora shards to reveal clues from an ancient civilization’s past. Nirvana.

Even better, I’d finally meet Dr. Giordano, my long-distance mentor. My uncle introduced us via the internet and we’d exchanged emails the past six months. The charming old man took time from his busy schedule to send notes about the project I’d participate in, support before a big test, and insider tips that gave me a considerable edge over my peers.

I’d packed my bags, tucked my itinerary into my purse, and cleaned out the local Rite Aid’s Dramamine supply. I cringed at the thought of flying. While I knew my chances of dying were greater in a car, I could barely rein in my panic.

“I can picture you now, tiny paint brush in hand, elbow deep in dirt as you reveal some dead person’s trash. You’ll be in heaven.”

I laughed. “Can’t wait.”

“Lots of hot Italian guys in Rome.” She wiggled her eyebrows.

My jaw dropped. “Italian men in Rome? You don’t say.”

“I read they pinch asses every chance they get, so watch out.”

“Guess so.” I doubted anyone would pinch my ass.

“You’ll see.” She waved the remote my way. “Wear those slinky things, and they’ll be all over you like peanut butter on jelly.”

“Sounds yummy.” Chuckling, I locked the door behind me.

After stretching, I speed walked along Exchange Street. Casco Bay sparkled in the distance, a quilt of assorted blues, adorned with white-capped frills. A crisp breeze blasted my face, trailing goose flesh across my arms with its icy caress. The sea-leaden air ruffled my long, black hair, driving stray chunks into my eyes. I restrained it with a headband.

Taking my usual route toward Commercial, I strode past moms pushing carriages with well-bundled babies strapped inside, and window shoppers who stopped in the middle of the sidewalk without a care for anyone around them.

I popped in my ear buds and stretched my legs to a steady jog. My pink Nikes obeyed my command, and I picked up my pace, grooving to the beat of Bootylicious. As I passed DeMillo’s Restaurant, the palpable aroma of the fryolator sank into my pores. My taste buds surged, blasted with a tantalizing mix of onion rings, burgers, and local lobster with piping-hot butter. I put the Bay to my back, and forced myself up Franklin. Surging down the other side, I puffed past the traffic stopped at the lights on Marginal Way. I took the long way back to the Old Port, adding five more minutes to my run so I could have a few cookies.

Staggering to a stop outside my apartment, I braced my hands on my knees and panted. Sweat trickled down my face and glued my sports bra to my chest. My phone cheeped, and I pulled it from my back pocket.

An email from Dr. Giordano: The final details for your internship at Monte Testaccio are in place. The Project Managers expect you at the dig on Monday.

While I longed to shriek and dance on the sidewalk, I unearthed a scrap of dignity and typed a reply instead: Thank you for all you’ve done for me. I look forward to finally meeting you.


A security guard winked as I passed him at the airport. Hiding a grin behind my curtain of hair, I dragged my suitcases, stuffed to the gilpies with my new clothes. I’d dressed in capris, a red top, and strappy sandals with three-inch heels my parents purchased. I hated it when they spent money on me, because dairy farms paid nill. Mom insisted, citing my lost weight as a valid reason for a shopping spree. Now that the deed was done, I had to admit, I enjoyed wearing something that fit for a change. Hell, when I scrutinized my reflection in the mirror before I left Portland, an entirely different girl smiled back at me.

I paused under an airport monitor and compared the schedule to my itinerary. Alitalia Flight #615, on time. First class seats and a direct, overnight flight, courtesy of Uncle Peter.

After checking my luggage at the desk, I breezed through security without an unpleasant strip search. I shifted my carry-on on my shoulder and headed to my gate. When I drew close, I didn’t need a text message to find my way. Boisterous laughter announced their presence from a mile down the hall.

Natasha and Catherine, aka, Nat and Cat, my twenty-one-year-old, identical twin cousins. I hadn’t seen them since my graduation from high school, three years before.

A grin bloomed on my face as I snuck up on Nat. Or was it Cat? I tapped her shoulder and deepened my voice. “Excuse me, Miss.”

Scooting sideways in the plastic chair, her head cricked, and her jaw dropped. She sprang off her seat and slapped her hands to her cheeks. “Oh. My. God. Mady! You’re skinny!” Tottering around the aisle on five-inch black heels, she rushed me. We hugged, and she kissed my cheeks in bobbing European fashion before holding me at arm’s length. Her eyes widened as they traveled down my body. “You look absolutely gorgeous.”

“She always looks gorgeous.” My other cousin joined us, her sapphire-blue eyes sparkling in her lightly tanned face. “How you been, hon?”

“Great, umm . . .” My gaze flew between them as I tried to determine who was who. Each sported nose rings, although one wore hers on the left, the other on the right. Their black hair stood on end, adorned with fluorescent pink tips. It lent their pointed features an elven appearance.

The cousin on my left pouted. “I’m Cat. Can’t you tell?”


  1. Hi Marty. Great to have you as part of the workshop. I really enjoyed reading your pages and there is some nice voice and character coming through. I know how hard it is to put your work up for critique so thank you for participating and letting us all dig in!

    Onto the pages: I have three areas that I would like you to think about for your next revision.

    1. First, I'm not sure this starts in the best place for the story. The first line and the first paragraph are so important in all manuscripts. They must knock our socks off. I can't overstate this enough. You need to spend as much time on your first page as you do probably for half your book. Or more. It's just that important. First lines need to be unique, need to grab the reader, and be something we haven't seen before. It's a lot to ask for in a first line but if you don't have that you will turn off agents and readers. Many agents say they really only read the first line to decide if they are going to read more. It's just that important. Therefore, with that in mind, I'm not sure your first line, your first paragraph, your first two paragraphs are strong enough to hook a reader. They're fine for later in the story but not for page 1. (HOOKED is a great book for first lines/first pages if you are interested.)

    Tied into this is the idea of considering how you are starting your story. You start with a scene with a character who, I'm assuming, perhaps doesn't play that big of a role in the novel. If your main character is going to Italy, and this is her roommate, I'm going to assume the roommate doesn't feature that much or at least that much at the start. So the question is, why start with someone who is not going to be a key feature of the story? You're using valuable space, and arguably the most valuable space as it is your page 1, to dedicate to a character that isn't key to the novel and for back story between the characters that isn't necessary right now. Also, you give us a little scene about them discussing running and junk food and then you keep backtracking to tell us what's come before. I know it's not exactly a flashback, but you have a lot of telling in these first few pages. If you need to backtrack so much in order to bring your reader up to speed, that can be a sign that you're not starting in the right place. Perhaps you need to start earlier when she gets this internship. Or maybe you need to start while she's knee-deep in the internship. Key to all that is starting with action and I think that's lacking in your beginning here. And that doesn’t mean a plane crash or some huge movie-type action event. It can be as simple as opening a letter that tells the MC her father has died. But it needs to be something. I don’t feel that here. There’s a lot of description of character and setting but not enough of the plot. I feel a lot of backstory and am left waiting for your story to begin. That’s a sign you aren’t starting in the right place. Another sign is that I feel you could sum up everything that happens in your first five pages in a couple of lines. If that's the case, then you really must evaluate what it is you're doing in these first pages and what information the reader really needs. This leads me into my next point.

  2. 2. I appreciate you using less common words and verbs in your description. That's terrific and exactly what you should be doing. However, I think it might be a little too much and a little too heavy-handed. A little goes a long way. Here’s an example: Hiding a grin behind my curtain of hair I dragged my suitcases, stuffed to the gilpies with new clothes. That’s three “stand-out” phrases in one sentence. Scooting sideways in the plastic chair, her head cricked, and her jaw dropped. Grabbing another cookie, she peeled it apart, revealing the thick, creamy center. Her pink tongue darted out to lick the frosting, and a blissful expression suffused her face. It’s overload for the reader. Your great phrasing will have more pop and stand out more if it’s much more minimally used (same for the pop culture references). Trust your reader that if you give them one or two small details that's enough and let them fill in the rest. When you give too much and go too heavy on either description or action verbs, it simply overwhelms the reader and the story gets lost amid too much wordiness. And I think as a side effect, this is making it seem like you are doing a lot of telling in these pages rather than showing. Even if you do the telling in dialogue, as you do here, it still comes across as telling and feels like you are forcing something upon the reader rather than letting the reader just be in your story and enjoy it.

    3. This leads into the idea of trusting your reader. We need some grounding to understand who your character is, what their story question is, and what's going to happen here, but too much detail to soon bogs the story down. It makes the pacing slow. I think that's what's happening here. Try to be as efficient in your storytelling as possible.

    I know I’ve given you a ton to think about. I hope it’s helpful. As always this is your story and you know where it’s going and what you want to do with it. Sometimes it’s good just to try to get out of the box you are in and think of alternative ways to start. Maybe this is it but maybe you’ll discover something new you love even more.

    Good luck and can’t wait to see the next round!

  3. Cool start, Marty. You've got an archeological dig, running, weight loss, fear of flying and I really like your mc--she feels sassy, optimistic, driven. I'm ready to follow her to Italy! That said, there are a few reasons I'm not sure we're at your best first five. First, you're setting us up for a dig in Italy. Are we going to encounter Charise, Portland, Logan Airport, or the twin cousins later in the story? If not, then it's a lot of exposition we probably don't need. The first five needs to set readers up for the plot--at least some kind of hint of what's to come. We get a few lines about the fact that mc has mixed feelings about the Italy trip that other students would "kill for." Why isn't she simply psyched? If it's just fear of flying, maybe that's not enough. What is especially exciting about THIS dig (what are they trying to find on the site?) that might connect to her internal journey (what is that sort of deep heart's desire that you, as the author, know your character is hiding?)?
    On a technical front, watch your tenses as you slip from past to present and have a few odd tense structures here and there. Not important for a first draft but critical for submission time. As a writer, I find having a solid grasp on the tense I'm writing in makes word choice easier, too. W/r/t descriptives, I know you're writing NA but I would shy away from describing everyone's skin for example or, since you've got mc in heels, using tottering on heels as a marker for the twins as well. Also, while fun, the paragraph about cookie temptation is just too long this early on--maybe save it for a moment, later on, when mc is in crisis and really tempted to go back to being overweight. At the beginning of the story, before we even really understand how hard she's been working on fitness, it doesn't really pack much punch.
    I'd suggest you try writing (or revising if you've already written it) a scene from her first day on the dig or first day in Italy--a moment that really tests mc's resolve. While NA is sometimes considered a sort of sultry YA, the reality is that the best books have, at their core, a solid plot on which to hang the steam! Great luck with your revision. I look forward to learning more about your character!

  4. Thank you both so much. I worried I started in the wrong place, and now it's confirmed. This is why I love this workshop.

    Since the inciting incident takes place on the plane with the cousins (the reason the book is called 100 kisses), I think I'll rework to start when she arrives at the airport, and incorporate only the most important details into the first 5 to give the reader a sense of what's going on. And come up with a better first line :)

    Thank you again.

  5. I agree with the suggestions to consider starting this novel somewhere else. This opening hints at many intriguing possibilities. I love the idea of following the MC to Italy for an archaeological dig. The setting will be incredible and likely far more interesting than this every day setting.
    My advice as you are crafting these first five pages is to make sure that everything in them (each detail, each bit of dialogue) is placed there with purpose. Readers assume the first things we tell them are important – that there is a reason why we started with those facts. Imagine the reader coming back and rereading chapter one. They should think, “Oh, look at that, that was important and so was that.”
    Consider this paragraph in your first first 5.
    “Forget it, Madison. Don’t risk falling down the slippery slope of cookie overindulgence. Like a junky in need of a fix, you’ll stuff your mouth in a blind blur, only to wake with your nails scrambling along the bottom of the package, crumbs dusting your chest, your stomach churning from carb overload. You’ll have to run for hours. Forty minutes is bad enough.”
    Now, I don’t know where you are going with this obviously, but this paragraph suggests that Madison has body image or weight issues that are a big part of her psyche. If that is true, fine. If not, don’t use valuable real estate on it.
    I hope that makes some sense (I have a toddler pulling on my sleeve right now) and is of some use. I look forward to reading the next submission.

  6. Great job! I love your premise. I'd love to read on and find out more about what happens in Italy.

    I would love to see a stronger first line. It didn't really hook me right away. Also, since she seems to be traveling toward the end of the excerpt, is this the only mention of the roommate?

    You spend a lot of time and detail describing food-related things and weight. Is this a big part of the story? You could find a way to show these things as the story progresses, without such detailed descriptions.

    I think some of the descriptions are a little too wordy and it draws me out of the story. For example "slippery slope of cookie overindulgence."

    I'm also not sure you're starting in the right place with this. What is the purpose of the description of the roommate and the cookie and the run with all of its food-related descriptions? If they're not important details, I'm not sure this is where you should be starting the story.

    The premise is great, though. I'd like to know more about what happens when she gets to Italy for sure.

  7. Haha, all the notes I made while reading your first five have been addressed by the other commenters. I agree with starting someplace else, and wondered if the cousins are important to the story which you answered above. I'm curious why her cousins live there. I feel like it's an important part of what makes up Mady's past (could be wrong, that's just my feeling). And I wondered if Mady's fear of flying was foreshadowing an event. It seems in real life half of people are afraid to fly but in books, you have to have a reason for it.
    I adore books about archaeological digs so you have me hooked!

  8. Hi! Just a little warning that I have hardly any experience with NA, so some of my critique points may have something to do with my unfamiliarity to the genre.

    I loved the voice in this beginning. Madison is already coming through as a strong heroine with cemented character traits and witty dialogue. I'm also wondering if exercise is a hugely important part of her spirit and how that might play into the rest of the novel. I find that first-person past tense narration is increasingly hard to pull off for me, so I'd like to applaud your use of it with Madison's point of view.

    However, I think the direction of these pages is unclear. There wasn't much hint as to where the conflict might be going or what the stakes were. I was left feeling unsure about whether Charice was a vital part of the story. In an edit, I might try starting the novel from Madison's landing in Rome and going from there - as a bonus, her reactions to the new setting would help introduce the reader to her personality much more. (Of course, if the plane ride is important, then you may want to start there.)

    A quick line edit/suggestion: In the paragraph starting with "I popped in my ear buds", you use a form of the word "surge" twice. You might want to think about changing this.

    As a whole, these pages seem like a good start that just needs a nudge forward to be very nice indeed! I'm excited to see the revisions for next week.