Sunday, November 16, 2014

First 5 Pages November Workshop - Leath Rev 2

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

Anna MacIntosh spent her mornings wrangling with two things: her tangled head of curls, and the truth about her real name. At least the curls could be scorched into submission with her flat iron. The truth? Not so much. 
All families had secrets, Anna assumed. Some ended up splattered all over the nightly news. Some were tiny things—except to the people who nursed them. Because that’s what this felt like to Anna. Like a little entity inside her heart, constantly needing to be cared for and looked after. It was exhausting.
It wandered into her mind in the most inconvenient times too. Like tonight, while she sat on a deteriorating log beside her best friend Dan, burrowing the toes of her shoes into the sand as the chilly waves of the Pacific swirled into themselves a short distance away.
“Marshmallow, milady?” Dan held a bag of jumbo marshmallows aloft in his hands, like a trophy. His floppy brown hair fell over his eyebrows, unkept and wind-tossed and so exceptionally Dan-like that she had the urge to run her hands through it.
She grinned and sat up straight. “Why absolutely, good sir.”
Anna had managed to keep the existence of her MIA biological father a secret from everyone except Dan, who had stumbled upon her one day in the fifth grade as she stood in front of a steamed-up window in an empty classroom. She’d spelled out the words in the one place safe enough to do so, where every trace of them would vanish without evidence. Her real name, written in steam.
It wasn’t the best outcome, sharing a secret with Daniel “The Thunderbolt” Thunderberg, what with his tendency to rev with excitement and spew information like Coke from his nose. But what could she do? Threats of eternal servitude only went so far. She had to trust him.
“You ready?” Dan asked.
He tossed a marshmallow into the air and Anna leaned back, catching it between her teeth. She bowed as everyone around the bonfire clapped for her.
Steve Lu tipped his s’more in her direction. “Best present of the night, Anna.” They’d all pitched in with different foods for Steve’s birthday party tonight. The s’mores had been Anna’s contribution. “My mom is going to be so jealous. This is way better than ice-cream cake.”
“I don’t know if I’d want the same birthday as someone else in my family,” said Mabry, draping her legs over her boyfriend Conner’s lap.
“I don’t mind.” Steve brushed graham cracker crumbs from his plaid shirt. “Did I tell you guys what my dad did for her? He framed a sheet of paper he’d saved from when they were in college together. She’d doodled her first name with his last name across the top of her Calculus notes. She cried when she unwrapped it.”
“That’s so sweet,” said Anna. Across the fire, Jarred rolled his eyes, and her smile faded.
“I always wondered why girls write their names like that.” Dan stretched out his long legs, crossing his ankles. The wind shifted, and everyone squinted as the smoke from the bonfire billowed into their faces.

Mabry twirled a finger around Conner’s ear. “It’s not just a name. It’s like...a daydream or something. Right, 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.
“I don’t know,” Anna began. “I guess—”
“It’s because girls are ruled by their emotions.” Jarred stabbed his finger into the center of his glasses as he hiked them up his nose. “Guys think with their—”
“Dicks?” asked Anna.
Jarred gritted his teeth as everyone howled with laughter.
Mabry fell off Conner’s legs into the sand, her hands grabbing her stomach. “Oh my God, Anna,” she gasped. “I think that’s the first time I’ve ever heard you say anything like that.”
“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.
“We know what you were going to say.” Dan fished a marshmallow from the bag and threaded it onto a stick. “Guys think with their brains, girls think with their emotions, blah, blah, your usual sexist grossness. Have a s’more, Jarred.”
“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. 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 her the stick, but Anna shook her head. “Should’ve known,” he said with a shrug, hovering the marshmallow over the fire.
“Known what?” asked Steve. 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.”
“Fine, then. Whose name would you write on your notebook?” demanded Jarred.
Anna exchanged a covert glance with Dan. “I wouldn’t write anything,” she mumbled, heat flaring up her cheeks. “Talk to Mabry about that.”
Mabry popped a piece of chocolate 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. She swallowed the sip of Coke in her mouth and tried her best to send telepathic shock waves in his direction.
“It’s really all-American too,” Dan continued, his mouth half-open as he chewed.
Oh my gosh.
“I saw her do it once.”
Her heartbeat stuttered. Please, Dan. This isn’t funny anymore. Stop!
She clapped her hand over his mouth with more force than she’d meant, and he slipped from the log and tumbled backward into the sand. Everyone went still. For a second he looked straight at her, the hurt visible in his eyes. A wedge of guilt stabbed into her chest.
She flew down the beach before anyone could say a word.
The lapping of the waves masked his footsteps, so she didn’t hear him approach until he was already there. Anna smeared her tears onto her cheeks with her palms, hoping it was too dark away from the fire for him to see her freckles, which would show now that’s she’d sobbed away all her makeup.
“I brought you your Coke.” He tapped the can against her shoulder.
Anna set it between her legs and wiped her hands on her pants. She’d rolled the cuffs of her jeans up a few times, but not far enough to keep sand from collecting in the folds. “Thanks.”
Dan fell onto the sand beside her with a sigh. “You hurt my feelings back there, Banana.”
Anna sniffled and wiped her face again. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you fall or hurt your feelings, but how do you think I felt?”
“I know how you felt.”
“No, you don’t.”
A few feet away, the tide withdrew a little more each second, pulling itself into the darkness.
“I know what you thought I was going to say, and it wasn’t that. I was just going to make a crack about you and me.” He pulled a pair of thin-rimmed glasses from his pocket and put them on. Dan had been struck by lightning as a kid, and ever since, his left eyelid sagged down when he got upset. Like a puppy fighting sleep. “That really sucks. I thought you trusted me.”


  1. I love this revision, Ashley! Well done! The descriptions are so lovely, and the tension is high. There are a few places where I think you could strengthen your plot/motivations.

    The secret – the name of her biological dad. I thought, big deal. So I would either leave this out or give us more drama/tension here. I’m sure it will be bigger stakes, but I don’t feel it at this point of the story – in fact it deflates the tension from the previous paragraphs.

    This paragraph was confusing to me, and as such, it took me out of the story:

    It wasn’t the best outcome, sharing a secret with Daniel “The Thunderbolt” Thunderberg, what with his tendency to rev with excitement and spew information like Coke from his nose. But what could she do? Threats of eternal servitude only went so far. She had to trust him.

    I don’t understand the threats of eternal servitude, or why she had to trust him – because he saw her write a different name? I love the image of her writing a name in mist – but couldn’t she make something up? It was fifth grade after all. A shut up would probably do it, and it would be long forgotten.

    And I also didn’t buy Steve saying this:

    I don’t mind.” Steve brushed graham cracker crumbs from his plaid shirt. “Did I tell you guys what my dad did for her? He framed a sheet of paper he’d saved from when they were in college together. She’d doodled her first name with his last name across the top of her Calculus notes. She cried when she unwrapped it

    A teen boy probably would not think this was nice. I understand you’re trying to make the connection to the last name – but this seems too contrived to me. Unless he jokes I better get a better gift than mom did. Or maybe Marby could write Conner’s last name in the sand with her s’more stick, prompting the conversation.

    This also caught me - 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. – Why? Is it because she has been told to stay under the radar? Not attract attention? You have an opportunity there to bring us back to the secret – to the beginning of the story – to how it affects Anna, how exhausting it is to always protect it.

    Good luck, Ashley! It’s been a pleasure reading your story!

  2. Hi Ashley,

    I enjoyed this beginning much more than the previous two. It flowed better into the story. I also understood her relationship with Dan. I hadn't been sure if he was a boyfriend or friend, but now I know.

    The secret being about her MIA biological father didn't strike me as anything significant. It felt like it should have been something larger than that or at least more dramatic.

    I wasn't sure what to make of "threads of eternal servitude" concerning her relationship with Dan.

    It felt odd to me that a teen boy would understand the nature of his father's gesture of saving the sheet from his mother's calculus notes. I think he would make fun of it instead.

    The scene with all the friends conversing was revised nicely.

  3. Hi Ashley,

    What an enjoyable piece! You took me straight back to high school with these pages; I felt like I was one of the group, hanging out around the campfire with my girl and guy friends. In addition to knowing how to create a believable scene, you have a good sense of how teenagers banter with one another. Anna is a flawed character but is doing her best to hold it together. Thus her reaction to her friends’ teasing was very realistic, including her overreaction to Dan’s joke, the last straw.

    And I love characters like Dan. He is the Best Guy Friend, handsome enough but not gorgeous, understanding and loyal, and someone you want to route for. I’m glad that you’ve established a conflict in their friendship—the trust issue—early on, as it adds dimension to their relationship. Anna is really struggling with her secret, but I have a feeling he’ll help her accept the truth and find peace.

    Speaking of that secret . . . I do see room for improvement in this story. Namely, upping the stakes for the awful secret that is eating at Anna—which right now doesn’t seem particularly awful; clarifying that “Thunderbolt” paragraph; and changing Steve’s take on his mom’s gift, which conveniently winds Anna up. I see that my opinions are shared and well explained by both of the other mentors. FYI, I like Erin’s idea about Marby writing Connor’s name in the sand. That would be a believable and relatively easy fix.

    Although you have some wonderful similes (“tendency to spew information like Coke from his nose” – ha! – embracing cursing “as if it were a new flavor of Doritos” – double ha!), sometimes you get carried away by description between dialogue. Too often characters say a line, then do something menial (draping legs, brushing crumbs, rolling eyes, crossing ankles, twirling fingers, fixing glasses, etc.) It’s okay to keep a few of these phrases, especially if they tell us something new about a character or the situation (such as that nice line about the sun setting). But including too many is distracting.

    Thanks for sharing your pages, Ashley, and best of luck with your writing.


  4. Hi Ashley,

    The voice here is fantastic! You've done a great job on these revisions so far. Your characters are a lot of fun.

    I agree with many of the suggestions from the other mentors. I'm concerned about the importance of her secret. It doesn't feel like it's so life altering so far and I'm not sure why we care about it--if that makes sense. I have zero fear of him revealing it because I don't know why it will hurt her if we reveal it. If you aren't able to give us more now, then I guess it should be left out until you can. I know this is probably confusing for you because I told you to tell us what it was last time. Sorry for the confusion, but if you can't give us the reason why it's terrible to reveal it, then just don't tell us at all, I guess. Just make sure you ask yourself WHY you can't tell it now. Too often we try to hold onto information that creates more tension if it's revealed. Make sure that isn't what you're doing here.

    I also agree about the alternative option for bringing up the writing names. Teen boys probably wouldn't share that with their friends...unless they were making fun of it or something.

    I think this is becoming really strong! Good luck!

  5. Hi Ashley, These pages have come a long way as well - since we're getting to the end my comment is the same for you - it's a good exercise to check the first page break and make sure it's as dramatic as possible. Not that the other page breaks aren't important, but the first one is super important to keep those pages turning.

  6. Ashley, this is soooo close! Great improvements throughout, and all good!

    I am only able to echo what the others have said: you’ve succeeded brilliantly in giving us a clearer picture of Anna and Dan’s relationship, but I’d absolutely, absolutely keep us in the dark here re: the missing dad for now.

    You’re also getting much closer to bringing in the last name dilemma, but I’m also not certain Steve’s dad saving a doodle from high school is the best plot device. It pulls us away from the characters we want to care about. Maybe one of them has an unrequited crush on the other and is caught writing those names into the sand before the tide whisks them away? Maybe that’s how we learn about the less-pretty side of Jared?

    You are about to nail this. I can feel it!

  7. Kudos to you, Ashley, for being such a brave and thoughtful "reviser." This will serve you well in your career. I must admit that my favorite version of this opening was the previous one, although this version has its strengths, particularly weaving in the reasons all characters are at this celebration. That said, I think you've given us a bit too much here. I also think (and I'm not sure how far you've drilled down on this in your prewrite work) that the key to this story, plot-wise is that you have a very strong hold on WHY Anna's true identity is such a critical secret--not just because of who her real father is but the CONSEQUENCES revelation of her true identity will have on her life, her family (will it affect her mom's career, current relationship, etc.?), her community (even the world????). Will her father take action if her secret is somehow revealed? It seems to me that this novel will deal with both Anna's romantic sense of self and her literal sense of self, so you want to think through how these two plot threads might interconnect and allow this to inform the pacing of your story. That said, for now I think I'd write on for another 100 or so pages and then maybe look back at this opening. Since you should absolutely have a completed manuscript before submitting to agents or editors, there's really no timeline risk here. This story feels like it has potential and I look forward to learning where it goes. All best wishes and happy writing! - Stasia