Monday, April 14, 2014

1st 5 Pages April Workshop - Mayberry Revision 1

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

First 1250 words:

The only thing standing between me and the most perfect summer of my life was a stupid airplane. Thank God for Dramamine.

I dragged my suitcases into Boston’s international terminal and stopped beneath an overhead monitor to compare the schedule to my itinerary. Alitalia Flight #615, departing at 10:40 p.m. Rome before noon, assuming the plane didn’t nose dive into the Atlantic along the way. I shuddered.

After checking my luggage at the desk, I breezed through security without an unpleasant strip search. I shifted my carry-on to my other shoulder and headed toward the gate to meet up with Nat and Cat.

Natasha and Catherine, my twenty-one-year-old, identical twins cousins, planned to spend the summer with their father in Rome while I participated in the dig. I hadn’t seen them since my high school graduation, three years before. As I drew near the gate, I didn’t need a text message to find them. Their boisterous laughter drew me in.

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 her plastic chair, her jaw dropped. She sprang up and slapped her hands to her cheeks. “Oh. My. God. Maddy. You’re skinny!”

People sitting nearby gawked as she rushed around the end of the aisle on five-inch heels. We hugged, and she kissed my cheeks in bobbing European fashion before holding me at arm’s length. “You look absolutely gorgeous.”

“She always looks gorgeous.” My other cousin joined us, her green eyes sparkling. “How you been, hon?”

“Great, umm . . .” My gaze flew between them, trying to determine who was who. Each sported nose rings, although they wore them on different sides. Their black hair stood on end, adorned with fluorescent pink tips. It lent their pointed features an elven appearance. Our mothers were sisters, and I’d inherited the same pale skin and black hair, although I wore mine longer.

The cousin I’d hugged pouted. “I’m Cat. Can’t you tell?”

I gestured to the blue jewel winking in her nose. “Keep that, and I’m set.”

“We wanted piercings, and I made her get hers in the right,” Nat said. “People should be able to tell us apart. Especially guys.” She glared at Cat. “Nothing’s worse than finding your sister hefted on the sideboard, her lips cemented to your boyfriend.”

“I couldn’t help myself.” Cat drooped against Nat and fluttered her eyelashes. “We’re talking Louigi here.”

I hugged Nat. “It’s wonderful to see you.”

“You look amazing.” Awe gushed in her voice. “You’ve lost so much weight.”

“I took up running.” My face heated, but their flattery sent elation swirling through me. I smoothed my hands over my hips and struck a diva pose. One hundred pounds down, and only twenty left to go. I promised myself I’d take the last off by the end of the summer.

“I need to get a little exercise.” Cat frowned as she pinched the muffin top smooshing above her designer jeans.

“You can run with me anytime,” I said. “I do forty, fifty minutes a day.” More if I ate too many cookies.

Nat elbowed Cat. “You’ll never stick with that.”

Cat growled. “You saying I can’t do it?”

Nat laughed and stuck out her hand. “Here’s betting you can’t.”

“Wait a minute.” Cat yanked hers back before they connected. “I know you. Spill it. What are the consequences?”

“Besides needing a bigger size?” Nat smirked and nibbled a nail. “How about . . . you have to kiss Joseph.”

Cat’s shoulders slumped. “Jeez, Nat. Why Joseph?”

“Who’s Joseph?” My gaze slid between them.

“The gardener.” Nat’s mouth twitched. “He has a wart.”

“What, a wart?” I blinked. “Where?”

Nat scrunched her nose and pointed to the scarlet bow of her upper lip. “Right here.”

Cat cringed. “And he’s old. At least forty.”

“There’s nothing wrong with older men.” Nat thrust her hand forward. “You ready to take my dare?”

“No way.” Cat wiped her fingers on her jeans and tucked them into her back pocket. “I’m not kissing Joseph.”

“Ha. Almost caught you.” Nat and I shared a grin.

Cat sighed and rubbed her belly. “Now that Maddy’s here, can we finally get something to eat? I’m starving.”

They grabbed their carry-ons, and we headed to a restaurant. As I wove my way across the terminal bustling with travelers, my phone cheeped. Stopping near the wall, I tapped into my email. A message from Dr. Giordano, my long-distance mentor: The final details for your internship at Monte Testaccio are in place. The Project Managers expect you on Monday.

Giddiness rushed through me every time I thought about the internship my Uncle Peter, a world-renowned archaeologist and Nat and Cat’s dad, had arranged for me. An entire summer piecing together amphora shards to reveal clues from an ancient civilization’s past.

While I longed to shriek and dance on the linoleum, I unearthed a scrap of dignity and replied instead: Thank you for all you’ve done for me. I’m looking forward to finally meeting you.

After my Uncle introduced us via the internet in December, we’d exchanged emails daily. 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 USM classmates. Grinning, I tucked my phone into my purse and followed my cousins into the restaurant.

As I studied the menu, I nibbled the inside of my lip. The salad choices were slim, but the jalapeno turkey burger sounded yummy. Since I’d run fifty minutes today, I could splurge if I substituted a salad for fries.

“You’ll knock Raffaele completely speechless,” Nat said.

“Who?” I peered over my menu, my brow wrinkling. “Oh, you mean Dr. Giordano?”

“Dr. Giordano?” Nat shared a blank look with Cat. “We just call him Raffaele.”

“I could never be so forward with an esteemed colleague.”

Nat laughed and fiddled with the salt shaker. “Just how old do you think the good doctor is?”

I shrugged. “We never discussed it. From his formal way of speaking, and his extensive knowledge, I’d say . . . sixty?”

They shook their heads in unison. “Try again,” Nat said.


“Close enough.” Nat grinned. “Raffaele’s not a doctor.”

“He’s your father’s partner.”

She frowned. “Is that what he told you?”

“No, I just assumed,” I raked my hand through my long hair. “This wasn’t Match dot com. We mostly talked about archaeology.”

“He’s Dad’s assistant.”

“I see.” Maybe it was a retirement hobby for him, rather than his lifelong career.

“Since he doesn’t have a PhD, I guess he’s just a Mister.” A sly look danced across Nat’s pretty features. “Mr. Giordano.”

My cousins smirked at each other, and their eyes did that crazy, silent twin-exchange-thing they’d perfected at five. Frowning, I wondered where the joke came in.

Cat’s eyes twinkled. “Once you two started chatting online, he pestered us for your picture.” She waggled a finger in my face. “Nothing on Facebook. You lose a ton of weight and kept it hidden. What’s wrong with you?”

I shrugged. While I had a Facebook page, I kept forgetting to visit it, let alone post updates. And I still had a few pounds left to lose before I shared.

“We gave him one of your graduation pics.” Cat said.

“Ugh. You didn’t.” I thought I’d destroyed all the evidence.


  1. Hi Marty,

    I'm excited to see this starting in a much better place. You do a much better job of giving us a hint of your character's history with the weight loss and the exercise in a more subtle way that's integrated into the scene as opposed to being the purpose of the scene. I like that we are getting to the inciting incident sooner.

    However, I think you had said last time that your inciting incident actually happens on the plane. The sooner you can get to that inciting incident the better. A lot of books now even get that inciting incident on the first page. So long as you get to it very soon after this, I think you will be okay. But I might even urge you to start us on the plane, seconds before that inciting incident. This still feels a little bit to me like we are waiting for something. The scene with the cousins is much better and it gives us some information that we need, but in some ways still feels exactly that — given to us. Perhaps you can lessen this feeling by tightening it all up a bit and looking at your dialogue tags and beats. Especially with three people it's important that we know who is speaking from the beginning. You might want to consider putting your dialogue beats at the start. And also varying them up by sometimes by just using “said”. Always having a full line of someone doing something or groaning or grumbling or elbowing becomes repetitive. A "said" actually disappears in the reader’s mind and allows them to simply read the dialogue and know what's going on without feeling it's too heavy-handed. You don't really have any of those and I think you could use a couple instead of some of the dialogue beats you have.

    Even if you decide to keep this scene as the start of your novel I'm not sure your first four paragraphs are the best of what you have here. Especially when you get to the second paragraph with a flight number and times spelled out as you have, that immediately puts the brakes on and pulls me out of the story. We also don't need little details of her checking her luggage and breezing through security and shifting her carry onto her shoulder. That's a whole paragraph that could be cut. The minutiae of peoples’ lives isn’t that interesting and the benefit of fiction is we get to skip them! If only we could in real life…

  2. One other thing to consider here is that your character seems very buddy buddy with her cousins but says she hasn't seen them in three years. I'm wondering why that's the case. I don't feel like they can be interacting as seamlessly as they are if they aren't actually that close especially if they live close enough to all be at the same airport.

    Another thing, which is actually a huge thing, is I'm not sure I'm in love with the first person past tense. Have you considered other ways to go? I'm actually wondering if you'd be better off in third person. That seems like it might fit your writing style and the voice better. Clearly changing that is a huge thing for your manuscript. But I felt like I needed to mention it and have you think about that as an option.

    Also, I don't think you tell us soon enough that the dig is with her uncle and her cousin's father. I was actually a bit confused until I got to this which isn't until the end of this passage. At the end you have her say she's having an internship with Uncle Peter but at the beginning when you say the cousins are spending the summer in Rome while she participates in the dig, the connection isn't clear.

    If you do decide to try to start this on the plane, I feel like you could have some fun with them having the conversations on the plane. Maybe because she hasn't seen them in so long, they stick her in the middle seat and each start grilling her for information but she's uncomfortable to tell them too much because she doesn't really know them that well anymore. Again it all depends on what you want to convey about their relationship.

    You have done a fantastic job revising here. I'm really interested to see you take one more crack at it and see if you really can hone this to ensure you are starting in the exact right spot and cutting any tiny piece of extra fat. Great job!

  3. Wow, Marty! I'm so impressed at the way you dug in and really reworked your material. You're showing the discipline & determination required to get where you want to go. That said, I have to agree with Lori that it doesn't seem like you're quite at the best first-five. I'd concentrate on two difficulties. The first is STRUCTURAL. Opening pages of NA/romance need to establish CONFLICT but there is no conflict here. Near the end, we learn that her mentor is young (and maybe hot?) but still NO CONFLICT. We know where Maddy is going but not what she's leaving behind/a mystery or secret or something that she's carrying with her that might tie into her developing relationships on the dig/even something only she knows about the dig site. The second difficulty is fundamentally STYLISTIC: the writing still feels too full of unnecessary details, both specific (color of stone in nose ring; kissing an old gardener named Ned with a wart; procedural elements of riding a plane which we can all assume) and generic (found a (nameless) restaurant; "terminal bustling with travelers") and wordy sentence structures ("flattery sent elation swirling through me" vs flattery elated me). So, while you're definitely moving forward in this draft, I feel like you're still in the drafting process--not quite at the finish line. I'll finish with 3 challenge questions that might help you revise. 1. Is Maddy an on-time person or a late person? Could you connect this character feature to running somehow? Maybe we could start with her running through airport, barely getting on plane, finding cousins there and so we're not so bogged down in procedural flight stuff. 2. Why are there twin cousins? Do you have a plot idea that makes this necessary? If not, consider that challenges/opportunities that this very specific choice provides and whether you want to pursue it. 3. What is the WORST thing about getting on that plane for Maddy? I don't mean a little flying anxiety (typical) but something about what she's leaving or where she's going that makes this moment slightly less than ABSOLUTELY PERFECT; nor do I mean the fact that a grad student has seen her ugly high school picture but something about her past loves that make her scorn the twins' teasing or a secret person she wants to meet in Italy or something else that's BIG, INTENSE, a reason to root for Maddy. Okay, three big challenges and maybe not the perfect choices. If these don't work for you, try choosing three other challenge questions to set for yourself to drive your revision. Looking forward to seeing what you do next! All best, Stasia

  4. Marty- you did an amazing job on your revision! Your new first line is a much better hook and I lol'd at the "plane didn't nose dive" line.
    I did think the cousins got along great for not seeing each other for three years and just assumed they'd keep close using Facebook but wouldn't Maddy's weight transformation been mentioned at least once in their exchanges

    1. Ah! Please excuse all my typos. Every time I try to go back and fix things, it freezes up on me so I have to make lots of little comments... :(
      An exchange I wasn't following: Cat drooped against Nat, then Maddy hugs her... Is Maddy hugging both of them now?
      I agree with Ms. Lori's comment about the dialogue beats.
      I'm not sure of the point of the exchange where Cat says she needs to lose weight and kissing the warty gardener. Unless the 100 kisses refers to dares Maddy will participate in later in the book? If so, maybe just tighten the exchange between Cat and Nat?
      "My gaze slid between them." Now, I may just be slow after battling

    2. With my kids over nap time, but when I read this I picture Maddy staring in the empty space between her cousins. Maybe add " back and forth between them"?
      I'd cut the "this wasn't match dot com" bc while I'm hoping that Raffaele/Dr Giordano is the hot love interest, I don't want Maddy thinking that, haha.
      You've got something great going, I'm eager to read more!

  5. Thank you all for your great suggestions! I see I have more tightening to do, and places where I need to make things clear. Hopefully my next revision will tie it all together.

    Candice: You're right about the kisses and the LI! Thank you for your thoughts.

  6. This start is an improvement over last time. We are closer to the actual trip. I thought the tension about her fear of flying at the start was good. Then it wasn’t mentioned any more. How scared is she? If she has an actual fear, I think it should be layered into everything until the plane lands. If she’s just melodramatic, well, that doesn’t seem to match her personality to be honest.

    The line, “…while I participate in the dig” needs an earlier reference since we don’t know what the dig is yet. Maybe instead of “The only thing standing between me and the most perfect summer of my life” you could try something like “the only thing standing between me and the super-cool archaeology internship” (obviously in her voice, I think that was my MC shining through : ))

    One thing I wanted clarified is the cousins’ size. Are they big? (like 100 lbs overweight like Maddy was?) You mention a muffin top, but most non-supermodels have those. Even Maddy if she still has 20 lbs to go. I wonder because this would / could lead to some interesting dynamics between the cousins around her weight loss. Like if they are heavy and always were, maybe jealousy or admiration for Maddy. If they have always been on the skinny side Maddy might be jealous of them for not having to count calories. Normally I wouldn’t really care, but the weight loss seems to be an important part of Maddy’s character.

    The “Louigi” line felt awkward. I think because Maddy wouldn’t know who that is, unless it was over three years ago…

    I agree about tightening the section about the kiss. I would take out the “Geez Nat” line and the “What? A wart” line for starters.

    I wondered too about the twins. Do you need both of them? They seem to meld into one personality. To be honest, I haven’t tried too hard to figure them out, but their differences are not obvious.

    I also agree that the line is best left out. I think it is enough for now to reveal his age as being younger. I might even leave the photo part until later. Maybe during the flight the cousins show her what he looks like and she is smitten. Then mention that they sent a pic of the old Maddy.

    I want to address one of the issues mentioned by others above about the plot. We need to know what the MC wants and what is standing in her way. The problem here is that Maddy seems to already be getting what she wants (the super-cool archaeology internship). And nothing seems to be standing in her way (except the flight, but that will be over by chapter 2 or 3, right?) What if she still needs to interview to get the internship? Of course that wouldn’t carry us through the novel, but maybe what she wants changes when she meets hunky Raffeale. Or maybe what she wants is something else, but you get the idea. More tension please.
    Looking forward to the next round to see where this goes.

  7. Hello, Marty! First off, this looks like a nicely polished revision, and the first line is much stronger and communicates much more about Maddy than it did in your original beginning.

    In the fourth paragraph, Maddy refers to a "dig", but doesn't clarify what kind of dig it is. Though I'm not sure if you meant to do this, it throws a roadblock into the reader's understanding, and some elaboration to clear this up would be helpful.

    Hmm, I don't know how Maddy would know what Nat and Cat's laughter would sound like if she hasn't seen them in three years.

    In the first half or so of this introduction, I feel as if we may be getting more insight into Nat and Cat's characters than Maddy's. While I can get a feel for their personalities, Maddy's is still a little vague - all I really know is that exercise and weight loss are important to her and that she hates airplanes. Her narration seems almost like a vessel for their descriptions. I would suggest trying to shift the focus back to your main character so that the reader remains interested.

    While the banter between Nat and Cat is entertaining, I think it slows down the pacing of the beginning, which might not be good to load up front. In a later draft, you could consider cutting some of this to make room for more development. Again, this could be detracting from Maddy, as the dialogue pushes out some of the voice that was in your original.

    In the paragraph that begins "After my Uncle...", Maddy thinks of "us" without clearing up who that is, which left me momentarily confused.

    The introduction of "Dr. Giordano"/"Raffaele" is done very smoothly using dialogue and Nat and Cat's hints. You've definitely started in a better place with this revision, and it makes the piece much stronger overall!

  8. Thank you, everyone. On to the next version!

  9. This is so much better! I get a much better feeling for the story. It's much more subtle than the last version. I like your MC a lot more in this version. I really like it and would read on!

    I do agree with the others that you still may want to finesse the opening a bit more. I'm still not completely sure you're starting in the right place.

    You had some great snappy lines in this version, too. I like the "nose dive into the ocean" line.

    One last comment I have is to work on your dialogue a little. The section starting "You'll knock Raffaelle..." The dialogue needs a little work. As I was reading through it, I kept tripping up.

    But overall, great work! I love where you're going!