Monday, October 13, 2014

First Five Pages Workshop - Comeau Rev 1

Name: Janel Comeau
Genre: ***Middle Grade Adventure/Light Sci-Fi***
Title: The Girl Who Was Ordinary, Until She Wasn't

There was absolutely nothing special about Jane.

Jane Hale was as ordinary as could be, from her mouse-brown hair to the toes of her sensible shoes. She never took home an A+ from school, never scored the winning goal, never went to the big parties and never even tried to disobey her parents. Of course, the Hales were always there, from her not-so-terrible two’s, right up to her not-so-troublesome teenage years, reminding her of what a special little girl she was. Mr. and Mrs. Hale beamed and coaxed and fussed, and they always claimed to take pride in their daughter’s overwhelmingly dull life.

They lied.

For years, Mr. and Mrs. Hale fought off tears of boredom every time they thought about Jane. And so they tried desperately to change their daughter’s ways. They signed her up for music lessons (she played a mediocre piano), bought her exotic pets (she turned out to be allergic) and even enrolled her in private school (the addition of a school uniform had only made her more difficult to locate in a crowd). It was no use. Jane’s blandness defied them year after year.

But this year was going to be different.

At precisely 8:05 AM on the morning of September the 4th, Jane’s bedroom door swung open and Jane skidded out into the hallway, tugging at her pleated skirt and pulling up her mismatched socks. Late, she thought to herself as she raced across the purple hardwood floor and headed for the stairs. Late, late, late, late, late. She thundered down the steps, deftly dodging the stone gargoyles and plastic flamingoes her parents had placed there for decoration. I can’t believe I’m going to be late on my first day of high school.

Still huffing and puffing, Jane leapt off the bottom stair and slid to a stop in the family kitchen.

“Five minutes late, as usual. That’s our predictable daughter,” Jane’s mother sighed.

Mrs. Hale stood by the stove in a Victorian ball gown and powered orange wig, flipping something that looked uncomfortably like a bright green pancake. Mr. Hale was already seated at the table in a top hat and a pair of overalls, with his round face buried in the folds of a newspaper; Jane quietly slipped into the chair beside his.      

“Ready for school?” he asked, turning his eyes back to a rather fascinating article about bank robberies.

“Yes.” she replied. Jane rarely offered up any more information than was necessary. Some girls her age might have gushed about the cute boys they were going to meet; others might have griped that eyeliner didn’t come in a shade dark enough to match their souls. Not Jane. Her mother fought back a sigh.

“Jane, darling, we need to have a word about your outfit,” Mrs. Hale bit her lip.
“Why?” Jane looked down at the crisp blouse and maroon blazer that made up the uniform of her new school, “This is what they told me to wear. Did I get a stain on it somewhere?”

“Oh, no, darling, don’t be silly; you’re not nearly exciting enough for that.” Mrs. Hale flipped off the stove and slid a green pancake onto Jane’s plate, “It’s just that we’ve transferred you to another school.”

Jane dropped her forkful of lawn-coloured breakfast. “What?”
“Yes, you’re enrolled in Snicket High School now. It’s a public school, dear. Oh, and you’ll be taking the bus there, I forgot to mention that.”
“What? Why would you do that to me? You didn’t even tell me!” Jane pushed her plate away and stared at her mother, open-mouthed.
“We wanted it to be a surprise, darling! You’ll have much more fun at public school than at some stuffy old private school.” Mrs. Hale explained.
This was also a lie.
Jane’s parents believed that high school was a prime opportunity for personal growth, tacky haircuts and life-long emotional wounding. To that end, they’d quietly enrolled their daughter at Snicket High School, a large public institution across town that boasted the fifth worst test scores in the region. Snicket High was noisy, crowded and exactly 7.6 kilometres from the Hale home, ensuring that Jane would have to take the bus to and from school for maximum trauma.
Mr. and Mrs. Hale were pleased. Jane was not.
“But Mom, I’m not even dressed for… you didn’t even tell me… I have to go change!” Jane sprung up from her seat and turned for the stairs. Mrs. Hale grabbed her wrist and gently pulled her back down into her seat.
“Oh, I don’t think you have time for that, dear. There’s a little something else that your father and I need to discuss with you.”
Whatever her parents had to say, Jane was almost certain she wouldn’t like it.
“Look at me for a moment.”  Mrs. Hale gently held Jane’s chin in her palm. “You know your father and I have been very patient with you all these years. We’ve dedicated an unreasonable amount of time and money to solving your little problem.”
“Problem? Mom, I don’t have a problem. I’ve never failed a class, never been in trouble at school, never stolen anything–”
“Stealing! Oh, that would be a wonderful start, don’t you think?” Mrs. Hale actually clapped her hands.
“Stealing. Very good,” mumbled Mr. Hale from behind his paper, and turned the page to a rather fascinating article about kidnapping.
“You can’t be serious.” Jane gaped at her mother.
“Oh, but of course I’m serious! Do you remember the time we smuggled that hyena into the country for you? Or when we signed you up for crocodile wrestling lessons? Or that time we dyed your hair blue?”
Jane shuddered. Oh, yes, she did remember.
“We didn’t do that for our benefit; it was all for your own good! We want what’s best for you, Jane. And we want what’s best for ourselves, too.” Mrs. Hale gave her husband a meaningful look, which he ignored as he continued to read the newspaper. Undeterred, she pressed on.
“Jane, your father and I aren’t immortal; someday, we’re not going to be around to take care of you. Or to take care of our fortune.”
“Fortune?” Jane looked around the kitchen, taking in the five-year-old stove, fifteen-year-old microwave, and two-hundred-and-thirty-seven-year-old suit of armor propped against the pantry door.
“Yes, yes,” Mrs. Hale waved her hand, brushing off Jane’s doubts that a fabulously wealthy couple would choose to live in a cluttered split-level. “And when we’re gone, we want to make sure that our money goes to someone who will carry on our legacy, dear. Someone who will make good use of it, in a way we’d approve of. And to be honest, darling, we’re just not convinced that you’re up to the task. And so your father and I have been thinking that it might be time for us to start looking for a new heir.”
Jane’s eyes went wide. “Wait, you’re firing me as a daughter? Can you even do that?”       
“Oh, darling, with enough lawyers on your side, you can do anything. But we hope it doesn’t come to that. We’re not unreasonable people – we’re giving you one last chance to hold on to your place in this family. You just need to do something remarkable. It doesn’t matter what it is. Be creative. Impress us, Jane, and we’ll happily continue to acknowledge that you sprung from our loins.”


  1. Hi Janel--

    I see you've made some subtle but meaningful changes throughout. don't have a ton to say, because I still really like this a lot. Sadly, the things I like veer toward the quirky and offbeat and often never find mass appeal--this is why I don't watch much TV, because if I like a show, it's destined to be canceled.

    I don't know if you're British or not, but I remember someone comparing this to Harry Potter (win!) last round and it does have a definite British feel to it. Not sure if that's helpful, but I can totally imagine her mom as a non-Death Eater Helena Bonham Carter.

    Picky things:

    Looking for a new heir doesn't quite seem to equal firing her as a daughter, does it? Maybe there's a secret older brother Jane doesn't know about or maybe they're going to adopt. Maybe they're leaving their riches to the hyena. You might need a little more to make that connection.

    Your dialogue is formatted wrong in a couple of places.
    “Jane, darling, we need to have a word about your outfit,” Mrs. Hale bit her lip.
    That comma after "outfit" should be a period. You do this one or two other places that I caught.

    I feel like the debate of YA vs. MG might come up again, so in lieu of finding fault where I don't see any to feel like I gave thorough feedback, I have two little stories to share:

    1. I had a fun light magical idea for a book and I pitched it to my agent as a YA magical realism. She said she LOVED the idea but that is was oh-so-definitely better done as MG and that I should give that a try. So I did. 2 months and 120 pages later, I abandoned the project because my MG voice sucks, I wasn't having fun, and I was pretty sure the book was rubbish. I might start over and make it a YA someday, but I doubt it.

    2. On the other hand, I had a crit partner who kept writing these academic MG manuscripts that felt dry and unnatural in places and YA in others. I told her the best thing she'd written was YA and that she had a more natural YA voice. She hemmed and hawed a little because she fancied herself an MG academic writer. Then she wrote a YA book and sold it for more money than my last five books put together.

    So. IF you encounter a string of agents who also feel like this might be better off as MG, maybe give it a whirl. Unless the thought of writing MG kills your enthusiasm or feels completely wrong, in which case stick with your gut and keep looking. My agent is fond of saying "There is always a market for awesome."

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. I really love the revisions you’ve made! You’ve set up the dilemma clearly, and the conflict. It is funny and interesting, and I want to keep reading! I love how outlandish the parents are now, with the outfits, and the green pancake, and the tacky decorations. So visual, and such a nice contrast!

    I have a couple of small suggestions. This is picky – but I’m surprised Jane is late (even if predictably so). I would have guessed she would have been predictably on time since she is just so average. Also, why mention the newspaper articles he’s reading? Will it be important? Other than the outfit, he seems pretty normal – predictable even, father sitting and eating and reading the paper. Lastly, fortune and firing you as our daughter sort of stuck out to me. It felt rushed. I think it could be smoothed out a bit. Also, not all teens care about their parents’ fortune. Does she care about both being “fired” and the fortune? Or one more than the other? This is a good place for us to see and hear from Jane, not just what her parents think about her.

    Other than that, fabulous job! I love the voice and the set up. Can’t wait to read the next revision!

  3. Hi, I love laughing and this her parents were so weird it had me laughing. And I enjoy the pace of your dialog. I feel that I a now more invested in the characters than I was in your first draft. I agree with the folks above, I don't think she needs to worry about inheritance and I would think she would be on time, not early and not late, just right. The only phrase that really stuck out was the "sprung from our loins." Just a personal thing though. Question: Would Jane's quirky, creative character call her a quirky name maybe? I do love how her parents are Mr and Mrs Hale and not mom and dad.

  4. Parents are obviously, visibly kooky in the revision - much better. I wasn't sure why they'd have plastic flamingos and stone gargoyles inside the house on the steps (I was thinking at first that she was going down the front steps to the house, outside, then realized she was still inside, which confused me for a few seconds) - except that they are weird. I like that her mother says "we want what's best for ourselves, too" - this definitely indicates that there is something going on we want to keep reading to find out, because really, is it just the fortune the parents are worried about? How do they want her to spend it after they die? Are they worried about the family reputation, and if so, what is their reputation now? Lots of explanations to look forward to as we read the rest of the story. Someone else mentioned that it felt a little rushed, getting into the inheritance issues, but honestly, I think as readers we can identify more with Jane's shock if we are pulled in quick and hard like she is. It's a lot for her to process, and she's also late for the first day of school at a school she just found out she's attending - so - this is overwhelming for her, obviously, and as readers just along for the ride, we can feel that WTH? along with her because we don't have any lead into it any more than she does.

  5. DOH! I always lose my comment! Let me try that again:

    Sorry I'm late commenting. I love what you've done especially with the descriptions! Great job and very imaginative. I also like that you've gone to MG. My only issue is that it still feels too much like the parent's perspective. The reader is definitely sympathetic to Jane, but I want to make sure we also connect with her and like her for who she is. To do this we need a little more of what's going on inside. My suggestion is to do an exercise and write a page or two in first person just to get a different perspective and see what you're missing.