Free writing workshop for aspiring authors of young adult and middle grade fiction. The first five pages may be all that agents, editors, and readers read, so get them right with the help of three authors over the course of three weeks. During the third week, an agent will also critique your pages and your pitch and pick a workshop winner - the prize is a partial request!
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
“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.
MacIntosh. And just to clarify, I meant other guys. Not this guy.”
‘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
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
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
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—”
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,
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
“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
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