Monday, August 18, 2014

1st 5 Pages August Workshop - Meehan Rev 2

Melanie Meehan
Middle Grade Fiction
Solstice- Revision 2

“I still don’t understand why we have to move now.” Katie closed her book, setting it on the floor next to her mattress. “Why can’t we stay in Connecticut until the end of the school year?”

Mom stood in the doorway with her arms folded. “I don’t have any new reasons, Katie, and I have gone over all of them with you already. Dad’s new company wants him now, the people who are renting our house want it on April 1st, and, most importantly, Nana needs us.”

“Is she that much worse than she was at Christmas?” When they had visited Nana in December, she had been redundant with her stories, but entertaining. Nana kept telling the story about how Pa was a camp counselor near the hotdog stand where she worked. He ate a lot of hotdogs that summer, always asking her out and being rejected. Nana finally said yes when he ordered a hamburger.

“Uncle David says she’s worse.” Mom crossed the room and sat down on the mattress next to Katie. “My goodness, that’s low without your bedframe.”

Movers had worked all day, packing everything except what was absolutely necessary.

“And hard,” Katie said.

“Uncle David says that Nana’s unsafe. She doesn’t get herself food and she forgets to feed Nellie. When he stopped by last week, the heat was off and Nana was on the couch wrapped in blankets.”

“Why can’t he take care of Nana until June?”

“He travels all the time.” Mom sighed. “I’ve tried to think of ways to work this out so that everyone is taken care of, but life’s not perfect in this situation, and we all have to give a bit.”

“Why can’t we just hire someone to check in on her?” It seemed to Katie that she was giving the most.

“Katie Crowe.” Mom shook her head and chortled. “Can you really imagine Nana allowing someone to check in on her? She’d never allow a stranger to do her grocery shopping. As it is, we are moving in under the pretense that we are staying temporarily until we know whether Dad likes his job.”

“What if he doesn’t?” Katie asked. “What if he hates it?”

“Sometimes, Katie, being happy is a decision we make, and we are choosing to make this situation work.”

“My room is echoing.” Katie rolled over on to her side and faced her mother. “Miss Devers taught us that sound travels in waves and bounces off of surfaces to make echoes.” A sudden tear pushed against Katie’s eye, and she rolled back toward the window. Miss Devers had given Katie a special notebook and made her promise to keep writing. Maybe her first entry would be about echos and empty spaces.

Mom lay down on the bed beside Katie and the two of them looked out the window.

“I love that the trees all look different without your bedframe.” Mom said.

Without the leaves, the trees were silhouettes against the night sky. Katie and Mom had discovered letters, animals, and other designs over the years among the branches. Mom was right, though. From a different height, the branches created a brand new kaleidoscope of pictures.

“I miss my bed.” Katie pouted in the dark.

“But you see different things from different perspectives,” Mom said. “The trees are making a whole new set of shapes and designs.

“Jenna invited me to stay with her family for the rest of the school year. She said that her mom even talked to you about it.” Katie knew that her parents had said absolutely no to the idea when Jenna’s parents had offered. She also knew that everything except her toothbrush, mattress, and outfit for tomorrow was in bags and boxes. And she knew that she belonged with her parents, her brother, and her grandmother. But she couldn’t resist asking.

“You’ve always loved visiting Nana,” Mom leaned her head against Katie’s. “You help her bake, work in the garden, build fairy houses--”

“I know that the fairies are not real, Mom. I used to believe, but I don’t anymore,” Katie said. “And you don’t want Nana to be baking anymore and the garden won’t be doing anything in Vermont until June. You’ve said yourself that Vermont is always a few steps behind and a few paces slower than the rest of the world. And the fairy houses were Pa’s thing. Nana just talks to the fairies, but it was Pa who loved to make houses with me, and he’s gone.”

Mom winced, and Katie wished that she hadn’t brought up Pa.

“It’s not a perfect situation, Katie, and I know it’s hard for you to think about leaving your friends, but you’ll make more.”

Dad appeared in the doorway. “How are my two favorite women?” He crossed the room and sat down on the floor next to the mattress. “I have achieved victory in the bedtime battle with the little man of the house.”

“We’re just talking about how much we are looking forward to the drive tomorrow with that little man.” Mom twisted a strand of Katie’s curls around her finger.

“Not exactly,” Katie said. “We’re talking about why I can’t stay here with the Bordens and finish fifth grade. Then, I could come live with the rest of you at Nana’s.”

“Hmmm.” Dad leaned against the wall and scratched his chin. “Who would make sure that Mom doesn’t burn her toast?”

Katie rolled her eyes in the dark.

“Or teach Will to climb out of his high chair?” Dad pinched Katie’s toes.

“I don’t think he needs any lessons in climbing,” Katie said. “I don’t even know why you’re bothering to bring that chair. He’s going to get out of it any minute.”

“I’ll take all the minutes of Will in captivity that I can get.” Mom stood up. “He’s a full-time job these days.”

“I love you, Katy-kin.” Mom leaned over, smoothed Katie’s curls away from her face, and kissed her forehead. “Good night.”

Dad leaned down and looked out the window. “Ring around the moon, tonight.” He shook his head. “I think we’re going to be moving in the rain.”

“We could stay,” Katie said.

“No dice, ace.” He kissed Katie’s nose. “”I’ll see you in the morning.”

As soon as Dad left the room, Katie’s phone buzzed. Hey came across her screen from BFFJenna. You still up?

Yes, Katie texted back. M and D just left.

Any luck?

Katie shook her head and typed. No. Leaving in the morning.

While Jenna was typing, Katie studied the picture of the two of them that was her background. They were making their favorite duckface with fingers in peace signs. Mrs. Borden had taken the picture earlier in the afternoon when Katie had been saying goodbye. When Jenna’s text came across the screen, Katie smiled.

You will still be my best friend. Don’t worry. This time Jenna replied with hearts and sad faces.

Before Katie could respond, another message from Jenna flashed across the screen, telling Katie that her mom was going to take her phone if she didn’t put it away right now.

Katie listened to the murmurs of her parents bounce and echo up the stairs, fantasizing that they would return to her bedroom with her backpack and suitcase, telling her that she could finish fifth-grade with her friends and her all-time favorite teacher. But the murmurs stopped and the house darkened. Katie watched the moonlight dance through the branches until she fell asleep.


  1. I'm not sure whether to explain this entry or just let it be. If you don't want an explanation, stop reading now!

    So much of the feedback that people gave had to do with Katie and the need for her to be an active participant in the scene so that readers connect with her that I decided to back the story up in time to the night before. That way, the spotlight is on Katie. As a writer, I found it easier to focus on the why here and why now, as well as the emotional struggle that Katie is having with the situation. I will be interested to hear responses. Sorry to give you all a whole new scene to internalize, though!

  2. Hi Melanie-
    I liked it the first way. There was more mystery but since I'm not a MG reader or writer I'm not sure if the opening should be similar to adult.
    I understand why you made the changes and what you have is good.

    The opening paragraph seems a bit predictable. Could you start with the last two paragraphs of the piece? Have Katie listening to her parents while she is waiting for them to come to her room before she goes to sleep? Or something about having the texting conversation with her friend? Just a thought.

    As far as emotion goes:
    Certainly, Katie is upset that she's moving. That is one of the basic life changes kids dread. So what makes this anymore unique? Or does it have to be? Is it possible to give her some internal inflection and specific things she will miss? The annual Christmas party at her school, games played in the neighborhood in the summer, swimming at her local pool, that kind of thing.

    I love the analogy about seeing things from different perspectives using the trees. But maybe you could explain how that relates to life.

    All in all I like it.

  3. Hi, Melanie - I absolutely respect (and admire) your decision to shake it up on this level… But I loved the old opening. I feel like the writing HERE is actually a great exercise in finding her voice and how she interacts with a scene and the people around her and that you might be able to reapply this talking, thinking, interactive Katie into the original opening.

    The big question I think of when I start a new story is 'why today?' and 'why this particular moment?' and I think you've gone a step backwards as far as instant, dramatic tension is concerned by going back to them talking about moving versus the moment the move is happening/finished. This is a conversation you might flash back to or pull from later, too, so don't think that work was in vain.

    Again, your original opening read as a rock solid MG voice that opened up on the perfect moment/scene. I think what everyone was suggesting was that they just wanted a bigger injection of Katie in it.

    That being said, I'm one voice and you're the ultimate one. Do what you feel is best, but I honestly believe you've got enough talent to take what's going on here and apply it to the old one and really knock your first five out of the park.

    Good luck!

  4. Ha! I revised the other, as well, before I wrote this one, so I will put it up next and let you all have another crack. Thank you for such honest feedback!

  5. I have to agree with the other comments. I like the first opening. HOWEVER, this new opening does introduce us to Katie and her dilemma. If you could employ this level of voice and introspection into the original opening, that would be great. Could you have this sort of conversation in the car perhaps? Either way, I've enjoyed your writing and the story immensely.

    1. I have to agree--I was a big fan of the first piece to start with. This sounds like a great compromise. And yes, I'm late to the party. *sigh*