Sunday, November 9, 2014

First 5 Pages November Workshop - Harris-Brady Rev 1

Name: Heather Harris-Brady
Genre: (Upper) Middle Grade Speculative Fiction
Title: The Time Between

When you're a girl who's almost thirteen you get used to a whole lot of freaky random "stuff". Stuff that, even if you're not a foster kid, you keep to yourself. This dead deer in my lap is one of those things.
I was about halfway home from school, ready to cross the road by the church, when I heard horns, skidding tires, and a sickening thud. The driver got out and checked the damage, as impatient moms in SUVs waited to turn into the church parking lot. I could see them through their tinted windows tapping their phones with glossy pointed fingernails as the deer jerked in spasms in the ditch.
I ducked my head when I saw a large white Escalade with the face of Peyton Boyce’s dad wrapped around both sides. Watch The Boyce of Reason, every day at 4 pm! Under his picture was his famous signoff, the one he said at the end of every show, every speech, practically every conversation: They’re coming for you, let’s stand together.
She was just another carcass to all of them, an inconvenience if they noticed her at all. Someone needed to care and something about it stabbed the dark untouched area of my heart, the spot I only know is there by the way it changes the parts around it.
Her eyes, a glossy brown like mine, reflected my face back at me. We'd both been going somewhere, alone. I didn't know what to do so I sat down here with her, holding her head in my lap and stroking her long tan face with its delicate black nose and curling eyelashes.
Every now and then I got a whiff of the apples on the tree across the road, rich sweet and thick. It was an old twisted tree with branches every which way. A bit of stone fence ran along underneath it, as ancient as the tree and well on its way to becoming sand once again. It wandered off back toward the busy part of Sudham, with its tall brick storefronts slicing off toward the ocean.
I've never had a pet, not even a belly-up goldfish to flush down the toilet, and I wasn't sure what to do but she seemed glad I was there. Maybe I imagined that part, but it might be true, who knows. Finally, with a sigh and a shudder, her head dropped to the side and she went limp across my legs.
As I stood up, stiff and cold from the ground, a tingle ran from the roots of my hair all down to the ends of my toes. I saw two fawns, twins, watching me from deeper in the woods. Since it was late in October they were plenty big enough to take care of themselves. They needed to stay away from the road, so I picked the last of the apples and threw them into the trees. Then I walked toward them to scare them away.
But they didn't run. They stood there, waiting. I took some baby carrots out of my lunch sack and went past them. When I turned around they were there at my elbows, nudging my hand.
“Listen you two,” I said, holding out a couple carrots for each of them. “You're going to have to take care of each other now. Stay back in here and away from the road.”
They twitched their ears and their long white tails, checking for more carrots. Somehow the whole thing made me feel guilty and ashamed even though I hadn't done anything.
When I got back to the road a green truck pulled with Save Our Wildlife on the doors. A man in a matching green uniform climbed down and seemed to be checking the deer for signs of life. He scowled as he looked up and down the road, then he put the deer's body in the back.
For some reason I can't explain I stayed in the shrubs, even though I was so close I could smell his thick cologne as it tickled my nose. He got back in the truck, slamming the door behind him and took off.
At home I found a wrapped box propped against the front door, with fancy ribbons on both the top and the bottom. A nice touch because I could peek without being obvious, you know? The conservation guy's cologne must have still been sticking in my nose because I got another whiff of it as I picked up the box.
Just as I was about to open it I heard the voices of Sudham High's most perfect couple, my star quarterback brother Lin and his cheerleading captain girlfriend Kallie, through the open window. I could hear Kallie really well, but Lin mumbles.
"...sometimes I wonder if you care about me at all," Kallie said. "You know how much I love you, right?"
I had to fight the urge to gag right there under the window. If you ask me, Lin deserves better. Like, WAY better.
"C'mon Linny," she said with a coo. "Just say it for me once."
Time to come to the rescue.
I burst through the door, dropped my stuff in the hall, and grabbed a few cookies on my way to the living room. I found Kallie and Lin curled up on the couch, so I plopped down in front of them and turned on a cartoon.
Lin patted me on the head.
"How was school today short stuff?"
I handed him one of my sugar cookies and watched him take a big bite.
"Well, I learned one of the ingredients in vanilla can come from a beaver's butt," I said. "They call it 'natural flavoring.'"
He laughed, spewing crumbs all over me and the couch both. Kallie gave us a disgusted look and slid over to the other side.
"Can you give me a ride home now?" she said. "I've got a ton of homework tonight."
"Later," Lin said, finishing off the cookie on his way out the door.
Mission accomplished.
I went to get my package from the hallway. On top of the tissue was a card: Have a magical birthday - Dad. Underneath was an honest-to-God magic wand. JUST like Harry Potter's. For real. Well, it was a wand anyway and duh, who would buy a regular wand? That would be the worst gift of all time.
Now my dad's been gone forever, since the day I was born really. I know, without anyone telling me, that if he showed up he wouldn't be welcome. No big teary love-fests here. So I stuck the wand in my backpack and stashed the box behind the summer clothes in my closet. When I looked for the box after dinner it was gone.
Like it never was.
The wand was still in my backpack though - the backpack of a girl who hasn't had a good yearbook photo since second grade, on the eve of picture day.
I snuck into the bathroom and waved it around my general face area. I had no idea what words might turn bushy black hair and braces into something magically beautiful.
Whatever I said obviously wasn't the right choice, because nothing happened. At least not right away.
Overnight my hair twisted itself into dreads so tight I couldn't get a comb through it. And, yes, there were several new zits on my nose.


  1. Hi Heather,

    I enjoyed reading your revisions this week, especially the little peek at life at home with her brother (do we ever find out the narrator's name? Or did I miss it?). Some of the things that tripped me up in the first version still tripped me up here, such as:

    - Scene jumping without much sense of them tying together. The deer scene still feels important and weighty, but she leaves it and heads home without much emotional reaction.

    - The mention of the gift disappearing seems to elicit no reaction. And she refers to the magic wand as if we're almost supposed to believe that it is actually magic, but if that was the case, then how would she feel about the gift box disappearing? Not surprised at all?

    -She mentions her dad not being welcome and being gone her whole life, but she readily accepts a gift from him. This seems like a missed opportunity. If her father isn't part of her life, as we're led to believe, shouldn't receiving a gift for her birthday from him carry more weight?

    - She seems satisfied with interrupting her brother's conversation ("Mission accomplished"), but wouldn't the convo just continue when her brother drives Kallie home? I would've liked for this scene to have a bit more to it; as it was, I wasn't sure what the purpose was other than to introduce Lin and Kallie. Maybe she tries to tell them about the deer?

    Hope this helps!

  2. Hi Heather,

    Thanks for sharing your revision with us. I'm becoming more and more interested in your main character, but I still feel like you are trying to fit a lot into these opening pages. Which scene starts the story? Is the deer a key element in the active story, is it for characterization? It's a bit distracting, because the scene is so dramatic but then melts away, without much of a lasting effect. It reads almost like a flashback--a fleeting thought that isn't happening in real time.

    I would examine each of the scenes within these opening pages and ask: which one is the beginning of my story? As in, where do we hit our first plot point? At which point has the main character's life changed? Is the deer a big change that leads to the coming story? If so, give us some more insight into how.

    Again, these scenes have a lot of interest, and provide a lot of characterization with showing, which is great! But if you were to tell me: "My story is about XXX," I want to see that reflected in the opening, hopefully as a conclusion to the opening chapter. In order to follow you into the story, I need to know where I'm going a little bit more.

    Thank you!

  3. Hi Heather,

    Your revision is smoother than the original, but I am still having difficulty connecting all the action that happens. I liked the deer scene in the original and still do, but I'm not seeing the significance of it. Is it just "freaking random stuff?" It feels too important to just be stuff. Holding a dying animal would have an impact on a young girl.

    The part about the dad's gift was confusing. She mentions he has been gone her whole life but gladly takes a gift from him. That seemed odd.

  4. This version of your opening pages is much stronger, Heather. That main character (does she have a name besides short stuff?) is stronger, and her voice clearer. I really enjoyed the interaction with her brother, and you described it very well.

    The beginning of the story, with the deer, seems very isolated from the rest of the pages. What is the significance of it? Why are these valuable first five pages being spent on the dying deer? If it does not connect to other elements important here, move it or cut it.

    The issue of her father and magic is confusing. Is this a magical world? Do people believe in magic? Why did her father leave the day she was born? Some questions are good for suspense, but these issues pull me out of the story as I try to figure it out.

    Good luck with the revisions!

  5. Hi Heather,

    I'm really falling in love with this.

    Thanks for adding the scenes of the community. I can better picture the setting now.

    The inclusion of the conservation man was a nice touch too. Though I don't think you pick up a deer. They are beastly heavy, especially when dead. I think he'd be more likely winch it up with a pully, throw it over his back, and heave it into the truck. Or just radio in for help.

    I love the brother and his girlfriend. This scene really helps us to understand your character better. It's nice to see that she's in a happy foster situation, at least where the brother is concerned. I echo the others in that I'd like to know her name.

    I see the role of magic that is coming to her in the final scene where her hair goes nappy and she sprouts a couple of zits. Nice touch.

    But here's my question: Does the scene with the deer also involve magic in some why? It is such a beautiful scene. It's really lovely showing writing, and it does reveal a lot about your character -- we were both going somewhere alone, her eyes brown like mine, she seemed glad I was there. But it doesn't yet feel connected to what the story is about.

    Perhaps the connection is magic? If so, then you need to at least hint at something magical. Have the character think she's talking to the deer. Or surprise herself with some power she didn't have before.

    Similarly with the package and the throwaway comment about the dad. They clearly have importance in your story, but I don't yet know why. Can we know just a little bit more about Dad? Is he a deadbeat? Or is he magical? And is the package with the double bows that disappears really important? If so we need a little more on that too.

    Your writing is really a pleasure to read. It's just a question of honing at this point. Lucky you!

    Good luck with round 3!

  6. Definitely enjoyed your revision way more though I still see some room for improvements still.

    In the first paragraph you used stuff twice.

    Then I think that the second paragraph just pulls me away from the story. Don't think it's necessary. I just thought it was random.

    "She was just another carcass to all of them." I didn't know who 'she' in this sentence was. Or did I just miss it?

    Also you never mention if the deer is hurt. How else would it have gotten in the lap of the protagonist? Then the protagonist just goes away.

    I was also intrigued by the dialogue of the brother and the girlfriend. That pulled me in but then it's just brushed off.

    Good luck.

  7. Hi Heather- Some great changes here! Love getting to see her personality more and the relationship with the brother. Much improved flow to the story here! Well done!

    Some opportunities for improvement: I think we're spending too much time with the deer and don't understand why. Is it crucial to your character in some way? Is she changed by the experience? Second, even though I like the lines, I don't think the first paragraph fits with the rest of the story. Actually, taking the second paragraph and changing that one instead might work better. The problem is starting with the head on her lap and then backing up to before the deer gets hit. We're jumping around chronologically and it can get confusing. I also feel like it's a missed opportunity to not show her actually seeing the deer get hurt and her own emotional reactions to it.

    Another place I'd rework is the discussion of the magic wand. I *believe* you're cracking a joke about it being a real magic wand, but I don't know her well enough yet to understand her humor, so you need to be more direct. I'd work on that, plus the opening and some of the other suggestions from other comments. You're scene has great potential!

    Can't wait to see what you change!