Monday, August 11, 2014

1st 5 Pages August Workshop - Meehan Rev 1

Name: Melanie Meehan
Genre: Middle Grade Fiction
Title: Solstice

Katie struggled to spot any of the glitter or sparkle that normally greeted her as the family van turned into the driveway of 39 Partridge Hollow. Maybe the steady rain was hiding the glow that welcomed her in past visits.

At the top of the driveway, Dad shifted the van into park and looked at Mom, then at Katie and Will who were wedged between boxes and bags.

“Are we ready?” Dad rubbed his hands together the way he did when a big project loomed.

Katie rubbed her hands back at Dad.

“I’m not getting any readier.” Mom was biting her lower lip. A sure sign that the long ride, the rain, and Will’s whining had gotten to her.

“Out!” Will pulled at the buckles on his car seat.

“Can’t set you free quite yet.” Katie leaned across the boxes and kissed Will’s forehead. “Let us just get some of this stuff into the house.”

Katie pushed a stray strand of hair away from her face and wiped the mist off her window. Until now, visiting Vermont had happened when the house glistened with snow or when the gardens bloomed in the summer. April in Vermont was gray and bleak, grayer and bleaker in the steady rain.

“Probably not the best time to move to Vermont,” Dad said.

“Probably not,” Katie agreed. If moving in with Nana had to happen, couldn’t it have waited until the summer? Couldn’t they have at least let her finish fifth grade in Connecticut?

“Coming out, Katie-do?” Dad slid the door open. He stood in front of her, holding a giant golf umbrella. “You haven’t been here before in Vermont’s mud season. Did you know that Vermont is one of the only places in the world with five seasons?”

Katie slid out of the van, and her flip-flopped feet landed in a puddle. She looked up at the house. Instead of a blanket of snow or a bright cushion, a layer of dirt covered Katie’s favorite rocking chair on the front porch. Katie remembered sitting in Pa’s lap and having him tell her stories about fireflies, and owlets, and maple syrup. How old had she been? Four? Maybe five. She had been six when he died... When it got too late, Nana would shush Pa into the house and rock Katie to sleep before calling to him to carry Katie up the creaking stairs to her favorite bedroom overlooking the backyard and the fairies Nana said resided there.

Katie stepped out of the puddle and faced the house, wiggling the blood back into her brittle toes. A broken gutter curved away from the house and water poured through the opening toward the foundation. Mom and Dad had talked about the falling apart house in one of their hushed conversations before they told Katie that they were moving to Vermont. Nana couldn’t handle the house on her own.

“Out, Katie,” Will stretched out his arms to her. “Please.”

“Hold on, Will.” Katie picked a daffodil and handed it to him.

“Smell, Will.” Katie leaned into the van, careful not to drip water on any of the bags or boxes.

Will held the flower to his nose and tried to inhale, but made the sound of inhaling by breathing through his mouth.

“Through your nose, silly,” Katie said. She sniffed the flower for him. “You can’t smell through your mouth.” She studied the flower. “Doesn’t really have too much smell anyway. You’re not missing much.”

“Out, Katie!” Will pushed against the straps, straightening his body. He pulled at the petals, placing one of them on his tongue.

“Oh dear, Will,” Nana’s voice said, from behind Katie. “Daffodils are for looking at-- not for eating.”

Will scraped the petals off his tongue and laughed.

“Nana!” Katie put her arms around Nana and hugged her. “Love the footwear!”

Nana looked down at her feet. She wore a tall pink and purple polka dotted boot and one green gardening clog.

“Ah,” Nana shook her head. “I couldn’t find my other boot. Sometimes things just disappear in this old house.” Nana shook her head at Katie’s bare feet. “You’ll have cold feet for your first day at Baldwin tomorrow.” She laughed at her own joke and took Katie’s face in her hands. “Let me look at you. You’re almost as tall as I am! How is my favorite granddaughter with my matching eyes?” Katie and Nana both had two different colored eyes, one gray and one green. Nana always said that it helped them to see the world differently.

Not waiting for an answer from Katie, Nana returned her attention to Will and the wilting daffodil. “Are you ready to come out, young man?”

“We’re not quite ready for him, Mother,” Mom said. Mom and Dad had been making trips to the covered porch with bags and belongings from the back of the van. “We’re trying to get the van cleared out before the moving truck arrives. Maybe you could grab a bag?”

Katie watched both of her parents check out Nana’s feet. Another sign or symptom of whatever was wrong with Nana’s brain, Katie knew they were thinking.

“I’m ready for Will, though.” Nana unclipped the carseat and Will slid out. He left the crumpled flower on the seat behind him. Nana picked up the flower, whispered to it, then handed it to Katie. “This flower should go back to its friends.”

Katie returned the flower to the cluster, placing it gently beside the other daffodils. The flowers drooped, heavy from the rain, almost touching the ground and the crumpled comrade.

“Uh-oh.” Katie turned around and winced as Will headed straight to a puddle. “Mom and Dad are not going to be happy to have Will a free man,” she said to Nana. “He’s going to be drenched in about two seconds.”

“Supersplash!” Will yelled, jumping in the growing puddles.

“He’s all yours, Mother,” Mom said to Nana, as Will sat down in one of the puddles. His blonde curls flattened against his head, while streaks of dirt twirled down his cheeks.

“Come along, Will,” Nana said. “We have bigger puddles in front of the garage, as well as mud and worms. You have mud season to experience in Vermont. You coming, Katie?”

Will and Nana headed for the front of the garage and the deeper puddles, and Katie lagged behind. Jumping was still a novelty for Will and the splashes of water that flew up around him made jumping that much better. Katie shook her head as Nana sloshed into the puddle next to Will.

“You jump too!” Will took Nana’s hands and swung them up and down.

The two of them jumped and laughed and laughed and jumped in the puddles while Katie watched.

Sparkling, dancing droplets of water caught in Nana’s curls and Katie thought about joining in their stomping and sloshing. Just when Katie slid her feet out of her flipflops, Will sat down and began to blow bubbles in the puddle. No, she’d help with the unloading, instead.

“We’ll take all the help we can get,” Dad said to Katie. “Unless you’d rather bond with puddles and worms.”

“I’m in for unloading,” Katie said, leaving the puddle jumpers and mud explorers.

Just as Nana sat down in a puddle with Will, the moving truck arrived. When they slid open the back, Katie shook her head, wondering how this truckload of furniture and boxes would ever fit into Nana’s already cluttered house.

Katie winced, watching the furniture and boxes stack up in the space above the garage. Frames and coffee table books from the living room, good dining room china, extra linens and pillows, kitchen pots and pans were labels Mom had written with a thick black marker. Would they really see the dishes and blankets and pictures and glasses again? Mom and Dad said living with Nana would not be permanent, but they would all see how it goes, how they all got along, how forgetful Nana really was.


  1. I think this reads cleaner. I like the addition of the first paragraph letting the readers know there might be more at stake but it needs to be bigger. Sparkle or glitter doesn't necessary mean magic. The glow also points to something other than ordinary and I like that. I'd end the five pages with the grandmother doing some kind of magic in front of Katie, maybe making a mud puddle bigger for Will, or a rainbow, something that she only shows to them. Does Katie know her grandmother is magic or only suspect it? There might be a place you can have her think about what her grandmother is doing. Maybe she knows the grandmother isn't forgetful, only that her magic is waning because of a curse or a spell. Good luck! I like it better.

  2. Hi Melanie-
    It seems like the first five pages are more about Will and Nana rather than the main character and she is just watching. Maybe more interaction between the grandmother and Katie?
    I'm not sure where you are going with this. Is it magic? Maybe you can give the readers a sneak peek in the second chapter. You could explain just a touch about the spark and glitter? Maybe I'm wrong since I don't read or write MG but will the readers want some instant gratification to hold their interest? Not sure, just a thought.

  3. Thank you to all of you who have commented and helped me with these pages. I know that one of the questions keeps coming up has to do with the magic. The magic is based on what people believe, so it is grounded in imagination with an important message throughout the entire manuscript of sometimes what we believe is as real as what isn't, especially when what we believe helps empower us to resolve tough situations. It really is, in that sense, a contemporary realistic piece, and not fantasy.

    You have all helped me and pushed my thinking more than you probably realize and I am so grateful.

  4. At the top, I think dad can simply park the car and 'look at his family.' I know you're trying to establish that the family is mom, sister and brother, but a reader really wants to be able to breeze through the first couple of lines as they slink up inside your story.

    The 'flip-flopped feet' wording is still kind of strange for me - I might consider just saying her flip flops sunk down into the mud, or something like that.

    instead of snow or - on her chair,

    The house descriptions are fantastic and as such, I don't need the 'just like she'd heard her parents say' part. We're starting to SEE why they're there without informing us that they've had conversations about it.

    Will made the sound of inhaling through his mouth - seems to trip on itself. Maybe try 'Breathed in a great gasp of air through his mouth.' I would love it if it WAS a normally aromatic flower and it lost some of its smell (didn't smell the way Katie remembered it).

    'Katie watched her parents check out Nana's feet.' It's all from her POV anyway, so I'd just say Katie's parents looked at Nana's feet to bring us closer to the scene.

    "I'm ready for Will, though" moment might work better if Nana repeats her original question again? "Are you ready to come out, young man?" and then when Katie's mother turns to react or stop her, Nana's already gone and done it.

    "Jumping was still a novelty for Will and the splashes of water that flew up around him made jumping that much better" - what if it was, "Jumping was still a novelty for Will and he greeted the splashes of water that flew up around him with laughter"?

    Just when Katie slid her feet out of her flipflops, Will sat down and began to blow bubbles in the puddle. No, she’d help with the unloading, instead. - I can't tell if she's grossed out or playfully disturbed by what he's doing or if she feels the nag of responsibility inside herself. I might have her dad call her as she slips out of the flip-flops, which will force her to be responsible and help. I think this is the world Katie walks in - halfway between being a kid and being responsible and attentive to the current situation - and having her act in that manner might give the other readers more of what they're looking for in terms of Katie's unique characteristics and behavior.

    Mom and Dad said living with Nana would not be permanent, but they would all see how it goes, how they all got along, how forgetful Nana really was. - This last little bit seems like a bit of a forced button. I might go with something like, "…not be permanent, but that really wasn't a promise she could make. Katie looked back at her grandmother's shoes again and sighed." Something like that, I don't know.

    Overall, this thing moves at a very nice clip and again, the weather and the feeling I get when I'm going through it is totally immersive. Great job.

  5. The overall emotional arc of the scene is much improved--by the end of the selection, we know what Katie's facing, and we understand (to some degree) her hesitations.

    I would like to feel that conflict right away, if possible. Right now the opening is confusing, with some awkward phrasing. Let go of your old opening. Try focusing on shifting our perspective into the position this family is in. Something like this comes to mind for me:

    Before we got to the house, Mom warned me to prepare myself.
    "Grandma's not how she used to be," she said.
    (something like this can lead to a very short convo w/ Mom/Dad in the car that immediately tells us what the situation is all about.

    Let us step right into the story--which is her family relocating to live with Grandma.

    WHY? I want to know this within the five pages. I haven't gone back and re-read to find the detail if I missed it, because the information should be undeniable.

    Word choice matters to establish genre. Words like "sparkle" within the opening sentences, especially in regard to inanimate objects, says "fantasy." Let your contemporary voice speak. Don't worry about telling us exactly HOW things have changed with Grandma, or what your MC used to think about her house. Just let us step into a world that has changed, and we will go along with you to find out WHY.

    Also, Dad seems to read her mind when he says "not the best weather to move in."
    I don't think you need that short exchange at all. I know you're trying to get in that info about your MC leaving her life behind, but maybe it can go somewhere else, or maybe we don't need it.

    Let your MC take action. Everyone around her is trying to get something done, even her little brother. What is on HER mind? What is SHE trying to get done, at that very moment?

    These are all notes that will hopefully tighten this scene for you. I also recommend writing from scratch, as your voice is getting lost in the edits. When you write on a fresh piece of paper, your voice has space to roam free.

    Best of luck!

    Melanie Conklin

  6. I'm sorry, I left a thought unfinished in my notes above - had to run out the door to my summer camp job this morning!

    My note was about this sentence: "Instead of a blanket of snow or a bright cushion, a layer of dirt covered Katie’s favorite rocking chair on the front porch." I simply prefer immediacy in my stories - tell me what it is like, describe how dirty or beat up it is and maybe end with , 'it wasn't the way she remembered it.' I just like the idea of Katie's memories of her Nana's place breaking down around her (ooh, kind of like Nana…).

  7. I felt that this revision departed from my original thoughts that this story might be magical. This felt very much grounded in realism, but I like that. The sparkle of the first paragraph was the only real hint that it might be fantasy, but I don't see anything else magical - and then I thought the sparkle must refer to the rain or frost on the house.

    I really like Nana in this opening scene. But the other characters, including Katie, still come off as a bit flat. Katie especially needs to be a more active participant in this story. I'm not even really sure how old she is. At first I thought she might be a teenager, the way she talks to her little brother with so much authority, and the way she responds to her father in the car. But then later I felt she was more pre-adolescent, but I was never really sure.

    The ending is good, gives us a clear idea about what this story is about - Katie & her family dealing with Nana's forgetfulness. This is turning out very nicely.