Sunday, October 19, 2014

First Five Pages Workshop - Smith Rev 2

Name: Laura Gross Smith
Genre: YA Contemporary
Title: Before the Time After
It was the day I met my best friend for the first time.
 “Are you coming?” Blaze asked, “Mars to Maia…is anyone in there?” “Sorry,” I said, “Could you wait while I clean this up? Just where are we going again?” I started to pack up my oil paints, careful not to get anything on my clothes. My mom was always complaining about stains. Like she was the one who did all of the laundry.
“How’d you ever find the time to eat lunch before you met me?” she asked. I never see you anywhere around school except for this room. “You do know I’m a vegetarian,” I said.
With a mocked shock expression on her face, she linked her arm through mine, throwing me off balance just a bit while I juggled paint and turpentine. “I’ll just have to be responsible for your conversion experience then. Before you know it you’ll be eating overly processed dead animals and wondering how you could’ve ever survived without.” That thought did make me cringe.
Life is made up of a series of befores and afters. Before I learned to paint with oils, I thought that acrylics were my only option. It is amazing how a little bit of turpentine can change your life. Before I met my best friend, I didn’t know that I could actually share secrets with another person, that someone would never share what my life was really like, with anyone else. After, I don’t think I could have made it through high school without her.
It was a cold October Tuesday in my Junior year when I officially met Blaze.  I was fairly new to the school and I happened to wander into the art room early to finish up a large canvas I was working on. It was an abstract of a Mayan Temple I had just seen in a picture for my World History class with Dr. Jarvis. I was unwrapping my paints when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around, startled to see a tall blond girl dressed all in black, except for pink high top Converse sneakers. She had bright fluorescent green highlights and an overabundance of eyeliner. Her cherry red mouth smacked pink bubble gum. Straight out of an 80’s movie.
“Um, sorry,” I said, not quite sure what she wanted from me. At my old school in Boston I could disappear, no one bothered with me at all. But mom just needed to move to Vermont, she must have really made a mess at her job, no one in my family would say, they were professional secret keepers. It felt as if this school had fifty kids total, not the 1500 I was used to. “Am I in your way?” At that moment she smiled this goofy grin at me.
“Is that yours?” She asked this while pointing to the bright gold and purple blotches that smeared the canvas.
“Uh, yes,” I stammered, not sure where she was going with this questioning. I was, after all, smearing paint on that particular canvas. “Mr. Taylor wanted me to try painting a larger canvas.”
“It’s really freakin’ cool,” she said, “”how’d you get that shade?”
She pointed to a particularly tough shade of eggplant that took me an hour to get just right. I, of course ended up running out of it, and pulling out my already thin hair trying to duplicate it the second time, in a larger quantity.
“Isn’t it a great color? Reminds me of the sky just before the sun starts to come up. It took forever to get it right.” I turned a bit, blushing.
“That’s why I turned to sculpture, I tried, I really tried to be a painter, but the colors always came out wrong. Then one day I kind of threw the palette across the room. Mr. Taylor handed me a soldering iron, crazy man, and a few scraps of metal and said, ‘Try this.’ I’ve been sculpting ever since. She pointed to the corner of the messy classroom, where a five foot metal sculpture rested. “Still trying to make that one stand on its own,” she said. She seemed distant for a second before wiping her hands on her pants and extending the cleaner one.
 “My name’s Blaze, although my parents didn’t actually name me that when I was born. They called me Jennifer Marie. Talk about boring. Where can you get a name like Jennifer Marie except a Country Club? I think they wanted me to become a debutante, or tennis pro, but shit, here I am making sculpture from rusty metal car parts. They almost died when I told them I wanted to go to Boston College of Fine Arts, said I would end up in a trailer, with a cigarette hanging out of my mouth and a screaming kid on my hip. I told my dad to fu-, I mean screw himself. Sorry, trying to watch my language. I have a college interview coming up in three weeks.” She spoke so fast I had to really pay attention to her words. I was still amazed that she was talking to me, I was the new kid. “You want to go for McDiarrhea for lunch?” Should I tell her I was a vegetarian? “Maybe,” I squeaked. “I mean, sure.” She was the first person in the school to really talk to me. I am still not sure what made me say yes, maybe it was because of her clothes, her nonconformity, and I wasn’t that brave. Maybe I just needed to get out of the building on that October day, to see the last few leaves hanging on. Maybe I just liked her. And I wouldn’t have to do much talking.
I usually spent my free periods hanging out in the art room playing with oil paints. I tended to stay clear of most of the other kids, I don’t know why; I just wanted to be left alone with my canvas, feeling the cool paints beneath my fingers. I get sucked into a picture and lose myself, which is a great skill when you are in high school. The pressure was on to figure out what you want to do for the rest of your life. Me, I know, but that doesn’t mean that the parents are pleased with my choice. The words starving artist has always been a mantra recited frequently in my house. Pamphlets for law schools have been mysteriously arriving in the mail and my mom actually tried to enroll me in a summer business course at my old school. I just wanted to paint.
So at lunch I always grab my brown bag and hike it to Mr. Taylor’s art classroom. He’s a typical art teacher, messy hair, black jeans and button down shirt, slightly frayed at the edges. Maybe he’s not typical, but what do I know. Freshman year at my old school, for some reason I signed up for art, dipped my brush in the first jar of cerulean blue acrylic paint, and I have never been the same since. See what I mean about befores and afters? Before I was lost, without any idea of what I wanted to do when I graduated, and after I am an artist. The moment the brush touched the paint, altered my life forever.
That day, the Mayan temple stared at me and I absentmindedly swirled the eggplant color on my brush. “Oh Maia, Mars to Maia.” Why did she want me to go with her? Probably because there were only eight kids in the Junior class, give or take fifteen. Mom just had to move to the sticks. I just nodded my head, as she said, “Great, I’m parked out back, I’ll drive.” And that was that, she turned on her heel, so to speak and all I saw was a green striped ponytail heading out the door. I became the version of me after I met Blaze, the version with just a little bit of color.
I placed my canvas in the back of the room, tucked my paints into my cubby and grabbed my brown lunch sack. I made my way to the rear of the school, near the parking lot and scanned the crowd for a shot of green. I spotted her after a few minutes and made my way over to a 1973 Ford Mustang in mustard yellow. The bumper hung down a bit in the front, and she caught my stare.
“Deer tried to run me over,” she said, “get in. Hope you like classic rock, can’t help it, the only thing my parents did right was to introduce me to some really freaking good music. Brother’s in a band too. Hope you aren’t a Kelly Clarkson girl, you’ll definitely hate this ride.”
She spoke so fast I wasn’t sure if I was confident about her driving abilities, but was too scared to say a word. I still wasn’t quite sure why I really came, I could have stayed and worked on the painting, while eating my grilled tofu sandwich.
“When do you have to be home after school?” she asked me as she turned the radio on, and I jumped as Metallica blared through the speakers. She reached for the dial and turned it down. I still had to shout to be heard over the song. “Five o’clock,” I yelled, “Why?” Metallica droned on, “Trust I seek and I find in you…” She gave me a slightly crooked, sinister grin.
We made our way down route 5; my hands clutched the seats, my knuckles were probably white. She drove like a crazy woman. Still wondering why I was there, why she wanted me to come along with her, I prayed for the ride to be over soon. ..


  1. Laura,

    Now that's a great beginning! Funny how simple it reads now, after three revisions. LOL I hear voice - and much stronger from your MC, setting, and age. It might be a 'telling' not 'showing' statement, but you thrust right into the here and now. :) #happydance

    The following flows nicely, too. You inserted bits and pieces of your previous 'telling' into the action. It totally makes a difference, tugging the reader into your MC's world. Nice work.

    When you move into the 'Life is made up of...' part, I think you need just a tweak to make the feel flow more smoothly. Maybe reference food and then the paints or something. It just felt a little jarring. And with that, you also mention meeting her BFF in this paragraph and then in the next, all while already mentioning this fact in the first sentence. I'd shave this second reference into one. (Maybe something like "Blaze was the first face I saw or first person to give me the time of day or ..." Does this make sense to you?)

    After that, I think it's pretty good. It's obvious you've worked really hard and taken time to think about all the advice/suggestions given here. It's been wonderful reading your work. Thank you for sharing it here.

  2. Way to go Laura!
    This revision is amazing. It read smoothly and the dialogue was natural. I still liked it when you opened with the "Life is made up of...", but that's just a personal preference. ;-) But I do agree with Ms. Larsen in that the switch seems a bit abrupt. The dialogue was also all in line which is always a bit confusing for me and there seemed to be some missing quotes, but again that's personal preference. This is a very solid start and the characters are well defined.
    Just a great job! Good luck!

  3. Hi Laura!

    Big improvements on this one! The beginning is so much smoother, with lots of voice and great dialogue. It's much easier to follow, and the details about the character are neatly woven into the rest of the story, which is a huge plus. You've kept all the best parts of the previous version (Blaze, the before and after motif, the line about the deer) and blended it in well with the rest of the story. Really well done!

    One tiny inconsistency I did spot: Blaze distinctly asks Maia to lunch in this version, whereas in previous versions it sounded like they were grabbing food after school. So when Blaze asks Maia when she needs to be home by, it sounds like she and Maia are planning to ditch school the rest of the afternoon and I wasn't sure that Maia would have no reaction like that.

    This is leaps and bounds ahead of what we saw the first round! Great job, and best of luck!

  4. Hi Laura,

    You've come a long way in your revisions. Now we can tell who the story's about, and we hear a distinct voice that's starting to give us a unique point of view. I would challenge you to ground this scene a bit more. Right now, we start out in the art room with the girls, but then break away for flashbacks and backstory about the the first time they met, and the art teacher, etc. If you plot what actually HAPPENS in this scene, it's that they leave for lunch.

    While that makes an okay introduction scene, it would be better if we were introduced to the characters and then led into a choice or conflict for your main character, which then resolves at the end of the scene. This will give the reader even more momentum to move forward into your story.

    For example, if you want to tell us about the first day that they met, then write that scene! No flashbacks. Just ground us in the moment. Show us the girls, and what's happening, and why that creates tension.

    Alternately, show us the moment that your MC ditches school for the first time EVER (which is a lot of conflict)...which is what the active parts of this scene seem to infer.

    Those are two different moments in time. If you reference other contemporaries (like I'LL GIVE YOU THE SUN, for the arts focus), you'll see that there is interior thought and side bits of information, but something active also happens during the scene. That's the only thing I'm missing here. I want to be in the now with these girls, not waiting for backstory to finish so that we can get on with the story.

    My guess is that after these pages, you settle into scenes that are much more in the now. The challenge is getting that same feeling in an opening, which is definitely an iterative process!

    Best of luck,


  5. I love that Maia is a vegetarian now (I don't remember that she was before - I think that would have stood out, so I hope I'm not wrong here) in contrast to Blaze's insistence on McDonald's - just another way they are different but somehow, Maia's not afraid to give her a chance. In this revision, I get more of a feeling that Maia is, and has been, waiting for something or someone to pull her out of whatever funk she's in. She doesn't seem depressed, just stuck somewhere inside herself, most likely because of the move and her mother. I'd still like to know more about the why of the move, and maybe why the reason is a secret. How could the family/her mother keep the reason a secret, when Maia is obviously so affected? Does her mother have issues, historically, with work? Has she been fired before? Have they had to move because of this before this time? Also - the remark about the laundry - so Maia does the laundry, at least her own clothes, and to me maybe that indicates that either she is alone at home or has a lot of responsibilities. Maybe this wasn't your intention, but I like it. Not that teens shouldn't do laundry or chores, etc. but it just felt like a clue to her home life that made it more clear that her mother isn't as involved with her as she should be. Maia doesn't come out and say it, she doesn't have to. Hence her need for a best friend in the form of Blaze, who will destroy her body with Big Macs and give her a heart attack through her driving efforts. I can tell that this is going to be a fun ride, for Maia and for readers.

  6. Laura--

    Unfortunately a deadline sneaked up on me and I'm not able to comment in detail this week. I just wanted to say thanks for sharing your writing and best of luck!

  7. I really enjoyed these pages! I get a good sense of the characters and the world they inhabit...My only comment has sort of been mentioned already, and it's about the flow. I might suggest moving the paragraph [Life is made up of a series of befores and afters...] <---love this line! ... up to the beginning, and then go into the day they met, and then have a transition that moves us into the present. Really good start :)