Monday, August 4, 2014

1st 5 Pages August Workshop - Meehan

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

As the van chugged up the driveway, Katie remembered Nana’s house as larger than it seemed right now, more welcoming, more magical. At the top of the driveway, Dad shifted into park and looked at Mom, then at Katie and Will who were wedged between boxes and bags.

“Are we ready?” Dad asked.
“I’m not getting any readier,” Mom said.

“Out!” Will yelled, pulling at the buckles on his car seat. 

Katie rubbed her hand along the window to clear the fog, straining to see the sparks, glows, and secrets that lived within the gardens. She could not remember visiting Nana in the rain. Visiting Vermont was done in during the magic of snow or the glitter of sun.

“Coming out, Katie-do?” Dad asked, sliding 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. 

“Out,” Will yelled again. 

“In a minute, buddy,” Dad said. “We have a few things to get out of the van before we set you free.”

Katie stepped out of the puddle and faced the house. Her feet felt brittle, and she wiggled the blood back into her toes. The broken gutter that she had heard Mom and Dad talk about curved away from the house and water poured through the opening toward the foundation. Katie had heard Mom and Dad whisper about the gutter, as well as potholes in the driveway, plumbing problems, and faltering kitchen appliances. Katie knew that Nana was forgetting more, Uncle David was worrying more, and Dad had been looking for jobs.

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

“Hold on, Will.” Katie picked a daffodil and handed it to him. Mom used to say that her life growing up in Vermont was always a few steps behind a couple paces slower than others’. Even the daffodils were behind the ones that had already crisped up and wilted in Connecticut. 

“Smell, Will.” Katie leaned into the van, trying 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 petal off his tongue and laughed. 

“Nana!” Katie put her arms around Nana and hugged her. “Nice boots!”

Nana wore a pair of tall polka dotted rubber boots. She looked down at them.

“Ah, my boots,” Nana said. “I couldn’t decide between the black and white ones or the pink and purple. The pink and purple seemed much more playful, don’t you agree? You could use a pair of them.” Nana shook her head at Katie’s bare feet. “You’ll be sick in bed for your first day at Baldwin tomorrow.”

Nana didn’t wait for an answer from Katie, returning 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 truck arrives. How about getting some bags?”

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 and whispered to it. Katie winced as Will headed straight to a puddle. Mom and Dad exchanged a look, and Katie knew they were not happy to have Will a free man. 

Nana returned the flower to its cluster, placing it gently beside the others. The other flowers drooped down, almost touching the ground and the flower. 

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

Mom’s arms crossed, but Dad shook his head at her. “Let it go, Molly,” he said. “We have plenty to do.”

“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. Will would leave some ring around the tub tonight. 

“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.”

Mom’s arms crossed tighter and her mouth opened to say something, but Dad spoke first. “Water, mud, and worms aren’t the worst problem for a little boy.” Dad put his arm around her shoulders. “Let it go,” he repeated. “We have a lot to still bring in before Paul gets here in the moving van.”

Paul, Jenna’s dad, had insisted on driving the rental truck from Vermont. “That’s what friends are for,” he had said. Katie wondered if Dad would miss Paul as much as she would miss Jenna. Probably not. 

Will and Nana headed for the front of the garage. Nana was right. The puddles were deeper there. 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, Nana!” 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. Mom uncrossed her arms and continued to help Dad empty the van. 

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, Mr. Borden and the truck arrived.  When Dad and Mr. Borden slid open the back, Katie shook her head, wondering how this truckload of furniture and boxes would ever fit into Nan’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 bad Nana really was. 


  1. Great MG feel throughout, but the opening paragraph seems a little clunky. I'd suggest reading it out loud to see if you catch it. From what I gather, Nana's house is or was a big part of Katie's childhood. A somewhat magical place that doesn't look at all like she remembered it. I'd like to hear a little bit about these contrasting images or emotions.

    As I mentioned in my notes on Kate Hedderly's sample, I'd also like you to kick me in the head with your opening line. Something that carries the books theme in a subtle way or makes a subtle promise to me about the ride I'm on.

    I really like Will yelling from inside the car, reminds me of Fudge from the Judy Blume novels.

    The paragraph about the gutter seems like an info dump. I really like what you're revealing here - grandma starting to 'forget stuff,' but I'd like to see it done in a more subtle or creative way. It's all about hearing a conversation, as opposed to something we can see or the way it made Katie feel.

    "Nana wore a pair of tall polka dotted rubber boots. She looked down at them." - Simplify stuff like this, bring us right into the action. "Nana looked down at her polka dotted boots." I think this introduction to Nana is a perfect spot to get a feel for her personality (with the boots) and maybe her memory situation, too... What if she only had one boot on? Excellent way to see the other characters react to that, too (and reveal more about their own character).

    "Will would leave some ring around the tub tonight." This voice seems off from the rest of your sample?

    Overall, this whole thing reads perfectly MG to me. Which I mean as a huge compliment - I have had trouble with some of my manuscripts with writing it too young/old for the market age group. I like the sense of weather a LOT. I think the old thing I'd like more of at the end of your sample is a better understanding of the stakes (how does all of this affect Katie's life, what could make it better/worse) and something that really draws Katie out as a unique individual, as opposed to someone simply telling the story. I notice she mimics some of her parents' behavior and language - which is a great (and honest) trait if that's what you were going for.

  2. Melanie---I LOVED this and have very little to suggest to you. What amazing character building through showing instead of telling. Your voice was fabulous and any tightening you do will be in the details. The big picture was very tight for me. Well done. My only comment would be this line...

    "Katie rubbed her hand along the window to clear the fog, straining to see the sparks, glows, and secrets that lived within the gardens."

    My first thought was that there was something actually magical at Nana's house. By the end of your sample I felt that wasn't the case--it was just the language of an intuitive, imaginative child. But I'm not 100% sure. And either way, I could love where you are going with it--but my gut feeling was that it was a contemporary piece. So--if it is--be sure to take a look at that. If it is a bit magical, you may want to weave in just a little more hinting. Make sense? One of my favorites I've read for First Five <3

  3. I agree that you might need a stronger opening, esp. if this is a magical story. Is the grandmother a witch? The voice is good and I love the little brother but I feel like I need more to like the main character. Maybe if this is a magical story have her remember a spell her grandmother did or something. Good luck!

  4. So far Solstice feels like a solid and charming MG story. Will is delightful. I just fell in love with him instantly, and Nana too.

    Not a hundred percent sure of the genre. The title and the brief scene with the daffodils feels almost fantasy, but the rest feels very much contemporary. They way it's playing out so far I'm hoping it is a straight contemporary story about a little girl's relationship with her grandmother who might be developing Alzheimers. But it's hard to tell. If it is fantasy, there should be some stronger clues right up front.

    Also, this is Katie's story but so far Katie is nothing more than observer. All the action comes from Will, Nana and her parents. We get a little interiority from Katie as she observes everything around her, but she is not an active participant in this story yet. I don't know how old she is either. Will is very defined right at the beginning as being a 2 or 3 year old. I'd like some idea of what Katie looks like, how old she is, what her personality is like. How will you make this truly her story - make her the central figure in this opening scene?

    Nana is a great character, but I have no idea what she looks like. Also, the fact that she is forgetting things is mentioned a few times, but I don't see any evidence of that in this scene. Nana comes across as a very strong, independent and capable woman. If Alzheimers is a problem, you might want to give us some of that here.

    The strong elements here are the voice - which is clearly MG and very Katie. There is one moment that felt like it almost slipped into Wills voice, when he and Nana moved to the garage to jump in bigger puddles. Then the last line of that paragraph we are back in Katie's head, but there was no indication that Katie had followed them to that spot. I was still with Katie back at the car.

    You call the fellow driving the moving truck Paul and Mr. Borden. Pick one and stick with it. You also mention Jenna, who is clearly Katie's friend whom she is leaving behind on this move. I wanted to know a little bit more about Jenna. Katie expressing her feelings about leaving her best friend would be a good opportunity for us to get to know her a little more.

    One last comment about the opening line. Consider deleting "As the van chugged up the driveway..." That line is kind of a dud. But I do like "Katie remembered Nana's house being larger than it seemed right now..." Very nice. Puts us immediately inside her head and gives a strong sense of where we are. The remaining part of the paragraph needs a little work to match the intrigue of that opening line.

    So far I'm really enjoying this story. Best of luck with your revision.

  5. Melanie-

    This seems like an endearing MG story. I thought Will was adorable and true to form for a little boy. I got that there were some issues with Katie's grandmother and that was why they were moving there. And I thought it had just the right amount of understanding of the issues in a girl her age.

    I'm not sure if this is a fantasy but if it is can I suggest bringing in the magic in the opening paragraph? Maybe using the paragraph that starts, Katie rubbed her hand along the window to clear...

    Also, I wanted to hear more about her friend Jenna and her dad Paul. It seems that they are important characters if they are being mentioned in the first few pages of the story. Maybe bring in how hard it was for Katie to leave her friend to move to a different state. I think your readers might be able to connect with moving and leaving a friend.

    Is Katie excited to be at Nana's and why or why not? Doesn't have to be long winded but again something your readers (that age group) may be able to use to connect to Katie.

    The main character is Katie but she seems to be observing everything and she doesn't express any emotion or give us any reason to care that she is having to make this change in her life which to a girl her age would probably be huge.

    I loved the playfulness of Nana and loved the irritation that Katie's mom had with Nana.

    Can't wait to read more and find out about the secrets in the garden!


  6. Just chiming back in--I do understand what everyone was saying about the Katie, but I also felt like her quiet observation was part of her character. That all of this loud family stuff was a whirlwind around this child. And that was part of what made me like her so much. Some days it seems as if all the characters are bold and this felt a little refreshing to me. Perhaps a compromise where we see her subtleness rather than assume it? And I do agree--I really am hoping this is a contemporary. <3 And rereading it again--I still love it. There's something about your voice I really enjoy.

  7. So sorry to chime in late! I'm on a deadline, and I seem to have lost my mind a bit lately. I find the voice in this story easy and endearing. I had no trouble stepping into your character's world, which is a tremendous achievement. The characters already feel round and full, just in passing.

    My feedback: the final line surprised me. I got no sense that Grandma might be "bad" other than Mom's brief comment about readiness. I want to get a sense of the conflict in this opening scene. While the place and characters are compelling, I could not even guess at what this story is about, and that is what we need to begin to understand in the opening.

    You're doing all the right things from a MG voice standpoint, just let us in a little more. Let us know what she is fearing and why, and start to let us in on the conflict, so that we want to read on and find out what happens.

    Best of luck!

    Melanie Conklin