Monday, November 3, 2014

First 5 Pages November Workshop - Leath

Name: Ashley Leath
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Title: Anna By Any Other Name

It was her mother’s secret, and it was hers. And by the spring before her seventeenth birthday, she didn’t want to keep it anymore.

All families had secrets, Anna assumed. Some secrets were better kept than others. Some ended up splattered all over the nightly news. Some were tiny things, nothing major, except to the people who nursed them. Because that’s what it felt like, having a secret. Like a little entity inside her heart, constantly needing to being cared for and looked after. It was exhausting.

Anna and her mother had just concluded an argument when Dan pulled up in his ’99 Honda Civic, affectionately nicknamed The Ghetto Glider because the trunk had to be duct-taped closed. Dan drove it at Mach five no matter the speed limit. It wasn’t a surprise that Anna and her mom had been arguing, especially lately, when arguing seemed to be all they ever did. So when Dan pulled into her driveway, Anna burst from the front door and bolted to the car. The Beastie Boys poured from the speakers as she climbed in, pressing the radio button as she pulled the door closed. 

“You know, some guys are super-protective of their radios. They’d flip out if a girl changed the station,” Dan informed her as he backed out of her driveway. “Especially to Taylor Swift.”

“Not a guy who’s worth anything,” she deadpanned. This was when they were most comfortable with one another, when they bantered and teased. Anna loved it. 
  
“Touché, Miss MacIntosh. And just to clarify, I meant other guys. Not this guy.”

“Obviously. Daniel ‘The Thunderbolt’ Thunderberg is a perfect gentleman. Everyone knows that.”

He laughed, turned up the volume, and headed for the coast. 

The party they were attending was for Steve Lu, which was a surprise in itself. He wasn’t the kind of kid who held parties. Much less beach parties. At sunset. With a bonfire. 

Granted, it was a tame bonfire. A tidy little thing, just like Steve. After parking at the top of the ridge, Anna and Dan made their way down the winding path to the beach and sat across from each other on wooden logs sunken into the sand. Dan handed out the ingredients for s’mores to everyone who had gathered around the fire: The birthday boy, Steve. Jarred Mitchell, who Anna wasn’t super-friendly with because he always managed to make her feel about as smart as a piece of chalk. And Mabry Brenan and Conner Teems, who everyone within a three-county area knew were dating because they could barely keep their hands off each other.

And lastly, Anna. Anna Marie MacIntosh. The girl who spent her mornings wrangling with two things: her tangled head of curls, and the truth. 

The curls were easier. She stood in the bathroom every morning with her flat iron in her hand, methodically smoothing every strand on her head. Taming the beast while praying for a wind-free day. Weather be damned, Anna was straightening her hair. 

The truth was harder. Over the years, Anna had made a list of the facts, because that’s the kind of girl Anna was. The kind who tucked away nuggets of information for safekeeping, the way bees build a hive. Slow and steady, layer by layer. Only somewhere along the way, the facts stopped coming. And here she was. Stuck with a list and nothing more. Just a secret no one at this party knew about. Nobody except Dan.

That’s why as the six of them sat in a circle and laughed like it was summer break instead of mid-February of their junior year of high school, Anna’s always-present nerves wound themselves so taut she could’ve strummed them like a guitar. Because Dan was the kind of guy who could keep a secret...up until he got excited and the secret spewed across the fire like Coke from his nose.

“Yeah, but why do girls do that?” Dan asked Mabry as he hunched forward, resting his elbows on his knees. The chilly wind shifted, and everyone squinted in unison as the smoke from the bonfire billowed into their faces. “I mean, it’s just a name for God’s sake.”

Mabry twirled a finger around Conner’s ear. “It’s not just a name. It’s like...I don’t know the words. Ask Anna. She’s the one who reads. Though that’s going to be super useless when zombies attack, Anna.”

The five of them peered at her, and Anna’s mouth went dry. Attention was fine in small doses, but Anna couldn’t stand the panicky feeling that washed over her when a group of people turned their eyes on her. Some people craved the spotlight. Anna craved normalcy, calmness, and control, none of which she felt with six pairs of eyes boring into her.

“I don’t know,” Anna began. “I guess—”

“Of course you don’t,” interrupted Jarred, stabbing his finger into the center of his glasses as he hiked them up his nose. Anna gritted her teeth. “Because girls are ruled by their emotions, while guys think with their—”

“Dicks?” she volunteered.

More howls of laughter. Mabry fell off Conner’s legs into the sand, her hands grabbing her stomach. “Oh my God, Anna,” Mabry gasped. “I think that’s the first time I’ve ever heard you say anything like that.”

She couldn’t help it. Jarred’s condescension got her blood boiling. 

“That wasn’t what I was going to say,” said Jarred, dragging a hand through his sandy blond hair. Jarred was cute enough to date whoever he wanted, but his looks were washed dull by his attitude. Anna thought she saw a touch of pink on his cheeks, but it could’ve been the fire reflecting off his skin.

“We know what you were going to say,” said Dan. He fished a jumbo marshmallow out of the bag at his feet and threaded it onto a stick. “S’more, anyone?”

“Give one to Anna,” said Conner. “So she can get the taste of that word out of her mouth.”

Cursing was a norm for everyone else. Anna was a slow bloomer when it came to things like that. The guys had embraced it first, in middle school, as if it were a new flavor of Doritos. So wrong, but so good. Mabry followed soon after, leaving Anna behind, per usual.

Dan offered the stick to her, but Anna shook her head. “Should’ve known,” he said with a shrug, hovering the marshmallow over the fire. 

“Known what?” asked Steve. He sat on the sand, trying to eat his expertly prepared s’more without dribbling chocolate down the front of his plaid shirt. Behind him, the horizon sucked down the last remnants of sunlight, turning the sky ombré shades of blue.

“Anna wouldn’t eat something off a stick—”

“Wait, wait.” Conner raised his hands in the air. “There’s something there. Hold on. I’ll think of it.”

Anna blushed. “You’re all ruled by your dirty minds. To answer your question, girls write their first names with someone else’s last names because they’re daydreaming, that’s all. It’s not rocket science.”

“Okay, then, whose names have you written?” demanded Jarred. 

Anna exchanged a covert glance with Dan. “I haven’t written anything,” she mumbled, heat flaring up her cheeks. “Talk to Mabry about that.”

Mabry popped a marshmallow into her mouth. “Everybody knows whose name I write.”

“I know whose name Anna would write.” Dan bit off a wad of blistered marshmallow and began to chew.

Anna’s breath caught. He wouldn’t. He’d promised.


8 comments:

  1. This is a fascinating start. I love the notion of the secret, the characters you set up around the bonfire. The wordplay, discussion of swearing, and interweaving of setting details work really well and read organically. There are a few elements that feel slightly formulaic, including "had just finished an argument" (you don't tell what/why so if feels kind of extraneous like telegraphing she and Mom don't get along--maybe save for later when you want characters to have an actual, on-the-page disagreement?); also the "tangled head of curls" --which I love the sentence ending "...and the truth" the curly hair bit also pulls me out of the nice, tight focus of the bonfire scene (again, curly hair is something you can input anywhere in the text). The only other difficulty for me was I wasn't quite sure what "girls always do" until Anna finally explains very near the end of the chapter--a bit of a tricky read. In sum, a great start and I can't wait to find out the secret, why Dan knows it, and whether he'll spill. Looking forward to next week! - Stasia

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  2. Hi Ashley - Thanks for sharing your work! You have an intriguing premise, everyone loves a good secret. That said, I feel like you have room to really crank things up. There's a lot of passive voice. I wonder about starting as Anna is wrapping up that argument with her mother ("This is your secret Mom," Anna said. "I'm through!") OR start later "As the six of them" and see how it plays out from there. As things get rolling the passiveness starts to fade.

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  3. I really enjoyed these pages Ashley! You have a great set up right from the get go. I love the description of the secret she needs to nurture, and the suspense – I want to know the secret! Your descriptions are marvelous, you do a wonderful job of avoiding clichés while providing insight and/or a physical sense, as when you describe Steve, or Anna herself. I love this line:

    “The girl who spent her mornings wrangling with two things: her tangled head of curls, and the truth”.

    Now the reader can visual Anna, and you bring us back to the secret.

    There are a few places where you are a bit too telling, and when the POV seems to shift. For example:

    “It wasn’t a surprise that Anna and her mom had been arguing, especially lately, when arguing seemed to be all they ever did.”
    If you show us a bit of the argument, or Anna slamming the door – with an interior thought about how she slams the door every morning it seems, after the inevitable argument with her mother or some such.

    I love this paragraph, but the POV seems off to me again, the voice is very passive, and it is also too telling:

    The truth was harder. Over the years, Anna had made a list of the facts, because that’s the kind of girl Anna was. The kind who tucked away nuggets of information for safekeeping, the way bees build a hive. Slow and steady, layer by layer. Only somewhere along the way, the facts stopped coming. And here she was. Stuck with a list and nothing more. Just a secret no one at this party knew about. Nobody except Dan.

    The entire exchange at the beach is great, we get a real sense of Anna. But if she trusted Dan with this secret, why would he blurt it out here? This seemed contrived to me.

    Good luck revising!

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  5. Hi Ashley - (Sorry for the deletion earlier. Having trouble with Google) As mentioned above, beginning with a secret sets a tone of mystery and intrigue. I would have liked more detail on the argument between Anna and her mother. The line about the argument ending was just thrown out there with no follow up. The narrative mentions how they always argue, but why? More description or details about their relationship would have given perspective about their arguing. Some of the conversation at the beach seemed thrown out there like, "what girls do". Also the secret Dan knew, was this the same as the one mentioned in the beginning? I wasn't sure.

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  6. Hi Ashley - This is a really nice start and you have a lot to build on here. I like Anna and her friends and am interested to hear what the secret is. :)

    A few things I would consider when editing. Your first line is a crucial grabbing point and this one is rough. I'd suggest reworking to something more compelling i.e. "It was her mother's secret and Anna refused to keep it anymore." Which would work, except for that then the secret isn't actually revealed for a while. You discuss secrets, but you don't reveal hers. I'd consider either revealing the secret here (in an argument with the mother perhaps) or changing the line to "Anna wasn't sure if she could keep it anymore." Which has less zing, but may fit with your story better.

    You have a lot of dropped promises on the first page. You tell us there is a secret, but don't reveal any hint about what it is. You tell us they argue a lot, but don't tell us wthat it's about or show it happening. It seems like cheating to grab us but when you don't follow up right away, it can be an unfulfilled promise and readers don't like that. The mentions of the secret, a reader might let you get away with for a few pages, but the fight is an issue. I'd either show the fight/part of the fight (and drop a few clues about the secret into the dialogue) or I'd lose any mention of it on the first page.

    We don't need to identify her age in the first paragraph, so you can leave that out and let it be shown later. For example: when Dan picks her up, "They were both the same age, but while Dan had been driving for the entire year since they'd turned sixteen, Anna still didn't even have her learner's permit. It was just one more thing for Anna and her mom to fight about." -- this would give us an excuse for part of the fighting while also identifying both of their ages. Obviously don't use this because I don't know anything about driving priveleges/Dan's age, but just wanted to give an example.

    There is a lot of passive voice here and you're having some issues with pov jumps. You tell us the bonfire is tame before they arrive get down to see it. And then you don't explain in which way it is tame. Show us that it's tame after she sees it and then compare how it reminds her of Steve by describing him. That will help make your voice more active. It all goes back to the telling vs. showing issue and we have a lot of telling here. Work on shifting it the other direction.

    Your pov here is mainly super distant third person. While third person is totally fine, I'd recommend getting in closer to Anna's head and thoughts. It will make it easier for your reader to identify and connect with her. Also, you have slight omniscient moments happening (like when you identify that Dan is going to reveal her secret before it happens). I'd definitely work on this, not only is it jarring when the pov shifts like that, it also drains the tension from your scene. You want your character and your reader biting their nails because we know it can happen and the secret might be revealed and we're nervous about it. The moment you tell us it's going to happen, the tension seeps out.

    I'm excited to see what changes you make! Good luck!

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  7. I think this is a very interesting way to start. But I was getting confused by how quickly Anna was with her mother, arguing. She was talking to the reader about secrets. Then she just goes off to a party. I thought she was in the middle of an argument with her mother.

    I don't really get a sense at where the story is heading. Is this going to be some sort of mystery? Because that's what I'm getting at.

    I also didn't really get a feeling at Anna and Dan's relationship. Are they best friends?

    The changing of the point of views confused me. And I felt like there are too many things going on. Why don't you stick to Anna and her mother or the party?

    Other than these things, I think you're off to a good start.

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  8. Hi Ashley, I love this. It’s an excellent start. I really enjoy your showing descriptions and your interesting turns of phrase, like:

    “The girl who spent her mornings wrangling with two things: her tangled head of curls, and the truth.”

    “The kind who tucked away nuggets of information for safekeeping, the way bees build a hive.”

    “Because Dan was the kind of guy who could keep a secret...up until he got excited and the secret spewed across the fire like Coke from his nose.”

    And I absolutely love the beginning:

    “It was her mother’s secret, and it was hers. And by the spring before her seventeenth birthday, she didn’t want to keep it anymore.”

    I know right away the central conflict of your story. So elegant!

    But there are two places where I need a little something more:

    The first is in the opening with the mother and Anna’s argument. You use the word “argue” several times. But there are lots of types of arguments. I don’t get a sense of how deep this one runs, or if it’s just normal mother-teenage daughter stuff. My guess is that it’s linked to the secret, otherwise it wouldn’t show up in the third paragraph. But if it does, I think you would be wise to paint a more vivid picture of the many possible shades an argument of this nature might take.

    By example, you say that Anna and mother “concluded an argument.” This sounds quite tame to me. But then Anna rushes out the door and dives into Dan’s car and cranks up the music. This doesn’t show tame.

    I hate to ask, but is it possible that you’re a little afraid of this argument yourself? Dive, girl. Pick it apart.

    The other place that makes me stop short is here:

    “Yeah, but why do girls do that?” Dan asked Mabry as he hunched forward, resting his elbows on his knees. The chilly wind shifted, and everyone squinted in unison as the smoke from the bonfire billowed into their faces. “I mean, it’s just a name for God’s sake.”

    Why do girls do what? It seems to come out of the blue as I have no context for it. I had to go back to see if I missed something. Realizing I hadn’t, I kept reading forward for clarification, but the next paragraph didn’t offer any answers:

    “Mabry twirled a finger around Conner’s ear. ‘It’s not just a name. It’s like...I don’t know the words. Ask Anna. She’s the one who reads. Though that’s going to be super useless when zombies attack, Anna.’”

    In fact, this sentence suddenly threw into doubt for me the setting. Where I was seeing contemporary, possible California, I was now wondering if I am in a fantasy. It jarred me.

    You do clear it up further down. So it’s an easy structural fix. And an important one as it clearly links to the lie and the title. It is so very, very compelling. I want so much to know what Anna’s mother’s secret is and how it is weighing on their relationship and what, if anything, Dan has to do with it.

    Such a great start! Can’t wait for more!

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