Sunday, November 30, 2014

First 5 Pages December Workshop - Baird

Name:  Jeri Baird
Genre:  Middle Grade Magical Realism
Title:  The Adversity Tree

Deep down, in the part of me that knew things my head didn’t understand, I got that flutter feeling. My gut said go, and it would tell me where. All I knew was that wherever I ended up, trouble would be waiting. Always.

I jumped on my bike and shot down the street. I should have grabbed my jacket. The April wind whistled clean through my New Kids on the Block t-shirt.

Tanner Wilson pedaled after me. “Hey, Lily. Are you looking for trouble?”

Tanner was usually the one causing it, so he liked to follow me if he thought there was some coming.

“Shut up, Tanner. You know I don’t look for it.” I stood to pedal faster. I got my bike for my tenth birthday, and since my legs were almost two years longer, it jerked back and forth.

Tanner paced me on the beat up bike he’d found at the junk pile. He could have bought a new one with the money he’d spent on his Air Jordan high-tops, but he was pretty proud to be the first boy at school to get them. He got a size too big and stuffed paper in the toes so he didn’t outgrow them too fast. As he peddled, his Nike sweat band kept his brown bangs out of his eyes. He always needed a haircut.

We skidded into the playground just in time to see Nick Fuller jump off a swing. He rolled on the ground, crying, and holding his foot. I threw my bike down and ran to help, but Nick kicked at me.

“Leave me alone, curse girl. I don’t need help from you. You jinxed me.”

I didn’t know whether to laugh because that was so ridiculous or cry because he believed it. What I wanted to do was yell at him. What I wanted to do was kick his good foot. What I did was get on my bike and ride home, knowing Tanner would help him.

That’s the day I realized everyone in town knew about the preacher calling me cursed.

It started three weeks before Nick hurt his foot. Mama and I stood at the front door of the church shaking Preacher Glenn’s hand after the service. We almost made it outside before he bent to whisper in Mama’s ear, “Rose, that daughter of yours is cursed the way she brings trouble to our little town.”

I looked up in surprise. He said it loud enough for me to hear. Those words and the hateful way he said it, changed my life. I started questioning myself. Did my gut lead me to trouble or did I cause it? If I was cursed, could I cause trouble and not know it? I remembered the times I thought I was rushing to help. Maybe I’d been rushing to make the bad things happen.

Mama raised herself tall and looked him straight in the eye. “My baby is not cursed. And we will not attend a church that thinks anything different.”

I’d never seen Mama with so much fire in her which made me think that some part of her thought he might be right. Mama marched me right out the door, and by the way she stomped around, I could tell she was still mad when we got home.

I asked Mama about it, but she said, “Lily, it’s ridiculous. This is 1989. I think we’re past believing in curses. Preacher Glenn’s an old man who doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” Then she said, “We’re not discussing this.”

I wished she would have let me talk about it. I had to swallow my fear where it settled in my belly like a serving of Mama’s Brussels sprouts (no cheese). After that, my stomach hurt a lot.

We quit going to church even though the preacher came over and apologized. That was fine with me. I never liked sitting that long, listening to a grown-up man wearing a dress, telling me I was going to you-know-where, unless I repented my sins and got dunked clean under in the water of baptism. Especially one who thought I was cursed. Apology or not.

Tanner Wilson’s mom made him get baptized, on account of him being so much trouble. He bragged about how he made sure one pinky finger didn’t go all the way under. I didn’t think I’d brag about going to you-know-where for lack of one finger getting wet, but then I wasn’t Tanner Wilson.

Since there was one and only one church in our little town of Blue Springs, we stayed home on Sunday mornings. While Daddy cooked breakfast, I crawled into bed with Mama. We snuggled under the pink and blue flowered comforter and stole a few extra winks of sleep. Then, Daddy would bring in a white wicker tray, like room service at the fancy hotel I saw once in a movie. We punched up the pillows and sat there eating pancakes and fruit salad and drinking big glasses of SunnyD orange drink.

Daddy prayed over those pancakes. “Dear God,” he said. “Bless this food and this family. Amen.” That ought to count for something.

Daddy was a story-teller and on those mornings in bed, Mama and I laughed until we had orange juice coming out our noses. I thought God didn’t care if we went to church as long as we had love in our hearts. I never had as much love as I did on those mornings with Mama and Daddy.

Sometimes, Mama’s sister joined us. Aunt Jazzie was the reason my parents moved to Blue Springs before I was born. Two months after they settled in, Aunt Jazzie’s husband and two little boys died in a car accident. Aunt Jazzie never attended church after that.

Mama said she asked Aunt Jazzie if she was afraid of what God thought about that, and Aunt Jazzie said, “God can deal with me after I’m done dealing with him.”

I guess that’s why Mama found it easy to quit church too.

Everyone in town knew about my gut leading me to trouble, but until the preacher called me cursed, no one blamed me. With my gut and having a white mama and a black daddy, I was used to being different. It didn’t bother me being the only family in Blue Springs that wasn’t all white. But being proclaimed cursed? That bothered me a lot.

People in town acted mostly nice, but sometimes I got those looks. The kind that made me feel like I forgot to wash my face, or I had my shirt on inside out. Daddy said it would make me grow up strong, but Mama had another opinion – an opinion she said I shouldn’t repeat.

At school, I got called names I didn’t dare tell Mama. Daddy called her feisty, but I called her embarrassing. If I’d told her about Nick calling me curse girl, whoo-eee, I don’t know what she would have done.

Mama called me hot chocolate. That was a nick-name I liked. She said when you mixed up milk with chocolate syrup and heated it in the microwave, you got something special. That was me. I had Daddy’s black curly hair and Mama’s green eyes. My skin color was exactly between them. Hot chocolate. But they weren’t cursed. I didn’t know where that came from.

I don’t remember the first time I knew trouble was coming. I was only two. 


  1. Hi Jeri! I adore this concept...MG set in 1989, and a bi-racial heroine? I'd read this based on that alone! Here are some things that jumped out at me as I read this:

    I feel like Lily's voice got stronger and more distinct the farther I read. Example, the 'Tanner Wilson's mom made him get baptized' paragraph was great; excellent voice. There were some parts in the beginning where I think you can add Lily's voice more -- when she's describing Tanner's bike and shoes read a little generic to me. Is there a way you can describe him in a way that is distinctly Lily? I think that would make this really pop. mention the bike scene for just a short bit and then move into a rather long backstory about how she came to be known as cursed. Why not just start there? Even opening with a "I remember the day the preacher said I was cursed" or something that's a good hook, and then moving right into that story might help the flow be a bit better, so that you're not jumping from present day and then spending so much time recounting what's already happened? Granted, I have no idea what follows this, so maybe that won't work. If nothing else, try weaving the backstory in with her current action. Maybe she bikes through town and thinks about how people mostly act like, but sometimes she gets looks..maybe she gets one right then, that way you're connecting the backstory with Lily right at this moment.

    Again, great concept. A few tweaks and I think this will really pop. Good luck!

  2. Very interesting, Jeri. I like where you're going with this. I see that you have a very distinct voice, and that is incredibly important in fiction. I like Lily already.

    Perhaps you can lose the first paragraph. It's too short to be a prologue and doesn't really tell us much. Let that idea of "feeling in the gut" come through in the pages that follow.

    You've done some really important characterization in a short amount of time. I can see Lilly's mom and dad and Aunt Jazzie already. I wonder exactly what she has done to lead her to trouble and being called a curse girl.

    This is a good time to be writing stories with diverse characters. Keep going. Keep pushing. Keep refining. Make sure everything is seen through the lens of your main character. I think this can be something special. It reminds me of Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage.

    p.s. I always comment without looking at what others have written. So after I wrote this post, and before hitting "publish," I scrolled up to see what Amanda thought of your pages. I think her idea of starting with something like "I remember the day the preacher said I was cursed" is a great opening. Ultimately, it's up to you, but that is a really good opening.

    1. Three Times Lucky is one of my favorite books - thanks for the comparison!

  3. I agree with the above comments. You need a stronger hook/opening sentence and don't do too much backstory, you'll lose your audience (kids not adults). You could even start with the line: I'm a Curse Girl. Not a cursed girl, although I am that too. OR something similar. Great voice though. Don't beat us over the head with too much repetition. Good luck on revisions!

  4. Jeri-

    Lily has a wonderful, fresh voice. Your opening pages read like a series of lovely little vignettes strung together. In my opinion, Middle Grade readers like a bit more action from the get-go with descriptions and backstory woven in. So give some thought to where your story really starts. Is it the day the preacher says Lily is cursed? If so, then start with that scene, and give us a bit of an idea of why he would think a little girl could possibly bring trouble to a whole town. And why did he apologize? What did he say? Did he admit he was wrong, or only wrong to have spoken up?

    Wherever you decide to start, get some action going! You have the charming writing and the vivid characters already. And Lily has a clearly defined problem. What do you see as her goal? To get out of town or stay and convince everyone she isn’t cursed. Or something else?

    I like the line that says “All I knew was that wherever I ended up, trouble would be waiting. Always.” I’m not so sure I understand the idea of her gut leading her to trouble but I do like the idea of trouble always seeming to find her. But is it typical little-kid trouble or something much bigger?

    I would rework this sentence: “I don’t remember the first time I knew trouble was coming.” I she doesn’t remember, then how does she know she knew trouble was coming?

    I enjoyed reading. Best of luck with revisions.

  5. I love the voice here. You've got great details that make me feel like I really know Lily. I like the opening paragraph, but it did make me eager to get to wherever her gut is telling her to go, and I was getting a little itchy by the end of the selection. You may not need all the backstory you have; in particular, the part about Jazzy could probably be saved for later. I did notice one typo - "Those words and the hateful way he said it..." should be "said them..." Overall, good job! I think if you just trim up some of the backstory, you'll be in great shape. Good luck!

  6. I love this a great deal! Lily is such a wonderful character that you can really add MORE of her. Especially at the beginning. I also love the thought of starting with the Priest's comment. If you could weave that in to her pedaling to Nick that might work to give all that information during the action scene. Which is vital in MG. You have to work hard to never slow down and lose the reader.

    So, the way I'd see this is to take the first section, which is the biking part, and expand it (without adding anything but what's already here) by taking the second and third part (which is all backstory) and turning it into Lily's internal monologue (as it already is here) but placed IN the first part. So she'd be going through all of this thought process while biking to get to Nick. That way when Nick calls her Curse Girl it really hits us in the gut as well because we know more about Lily. Does that make sense?

    I can try to explain that better if that would help :)

    Great job, I think this could be absolute gold!

  7. Thanks for all the suggestions and kind words! As a group, you've answered the question I had - which was if I needed to start with the priest calling her cursed. I think I understand what you're saying, Peter. I'm excited to start playing around with it!

  8. Honestly, I have nothing to add to the other comments. I read through it, thought it was GREAT, and then had a few concerns regarding the opening paragraph, the voice strengthening as we move inward, and the amount of action vs. backstory...but everyone covered it brilliantly!!

    All in all, this is SUCH a strong start and I can't wait to read more, Jeri!

  9. I think everyone just about covered it all. I really like the story so far, especially with diversity! Excellent start and Lily has such a strong voice!
    The only thing:
    I don't like how Nick just calls her 'curse girl' and then runs away before Lily gets mad. One second she was running to help, the next she wants to kick him in his injury. I feel like we need something more, even a short sentence on their relationship before he runs away.

    I LOVE this so far!!