Sunday, November 9, 2014

First 5 Pages November Workshop - Leath Rev 1

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 that spring, she didn’t want to keep it anymore.
All families had secrets, Anna assumed. 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.
It wandered into her mind in the most inconvenient times too. Like tonight, while she sat on a deteriorating log across from her friends, burrowing the toes of her shoes into the sand as the chilly waves of the Pacific swirled into themselves a short distance away, taking her thoughts along with them.
“Hey, Anna?” Dan held a bag of jumbo marshmallows aloft in his hands, like a trophy. “Marshmallow?”
She grinned and held up her fingers. “At least two.”
She’d made a list of the facts over the years, tucking away nuggets of information for safekeeping, the way bees build a hive. And she had managed to keep it a secret, except to 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. He’d agreed not to tell anyone, because that’s what best friends do.
Dan passed the marshmallows to his left, and the bag made its way to everyone who had gathered around the fire: Steve Lu, the birthday boy and reason they were here tonight. 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 then to Anna, the girl who spent her mornings wrangling with two things: her tangled head of curls, and the truth. At least the curls could be scorched into submission with her flat iron. The truth? Not so much.
“So, why do girls do that?” Dan asked Mabry as he hunched forward, resting his elbows on his knees. The wind shifted, and everyone squinted in unison as the smoke from the bonfire billowed into their faces. “Why take up all that space on a notebook writing a name that isn’t even yours?”
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.”
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 as she plucked two marshmallows from the bag and tossed it back to Dan. “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 marshmallow from the bag 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 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. 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.”
“Fine, then. Whose names have you written on your notebooks?” 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.
Dan waved a hand at his open mouth, fanning the too-hot marshmallow on his tongue. Anna swallowed the sip of Coke in her mouth and tried her best to send telepathic shock waves in his direction over the fire.
“It’s really all-American too,” Dan continued, his mouth half-open as he spoke.
Oh my gosh.
“I saw her do it once.”
Her heartbeat stuttered. Please, Dan. This isn’t funny anymore. Stop!
Anna bolted from the log and shoved Dan backward. His back hit the sand with a thud. Everyone went still. For a second he looked straight at her, the hurt visible in his eyes, and 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 know you’d fall off the log, and I didn’t mean to 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.”
Anna’s heart withered. She tapped the glass with her fingernail. “You fixed the lens.”


  1. This is a great revision and just a great start to a novel. The dialogue is snappy and, as the mother of three teens, I feel comfortable telling you it feels authentic. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this and would definitely read on if I were an agent or editor. Nonetheless, here are a few highly nitpicky observations for your consideration. 1-The handing around of the marshmallows: while it works to introduce the group, it feels just a little forced and expositional (going round the circle) and I'm wondering if you could smooth that out and 2-the discussion of why Anna dislikes Jarrod and their interaction generally--you've got so much going on and it's so well and tightly woven together that this stuff feels unnecessary here and pulls me out of the narrative, so maybe you could consider saving these character details for a later page or chapter or at least tightening up the grammar significantly on the sentence ending "...piece of chalk." 3- Steve Lu is mentioned once as a device for bringing the group together and then falls away: I'm not sure if he's going to be a necessary character later on so I have no particular guidance but some thoughts are (depending on your larger ms plans) to cut him and have it be Jarrod's gathering (in which case, since he's hot, does he need a girl with him?) or to give him another line or two of dialogue to establish his character and keep that strong feeling of group dynamic balanced. Again, great revision. It's clear you really thought about how to consider everyone's comments and then revise in a way that keeps the story very much your own and strong in voice.

  2. Hi Ashley,

    This beginning reads better. It is a good change.

    The introduction of everyone around the fire at the beach felt too drawn out and more information than needed.

    I'm still not clear about the line, "what girls do" and then discovering they write names in a notebook. I'm not sure what that is about or what it has to do with girls being ruled by their emotions.

  3. This is a really strong story. I am already invested in these pages, this secret, and Anna. The dialogue is natural, the descriptions lovely, and the writing very good. Fabulous job. Because of that, the criticism will be of the picky kind.

    Look out for unnecessary words that slow down the pacing or take away from an otherwise lovely sentence, like “Some were tiny things, nothing major, except to the people who nursed them.” The sentence is much stronger without nothing major. Read the pages out loud, slowly, and you’ll catch the few that you have.

    This sentence is awkward and telling: “She couldn’t help it. Jarred’s condescension got her blood boiling.” Here is an opportunity to bring us back to the secret. She could be vulgar to deflect everyone from the subject of names.

    Lastly, although she clearly over-reacted to Dan, it still catches me by surprise. I think it’s because we no longer have their camaraderie from the first draft, which I liked. I don’t know Dan in this draft. I’d like to see more of him developed, or a clearer reason why she thinks this guy who has kept her secret all of these years will suddenly spill. Is he drinking for the first time? Is she paranoid today because of the fight with her mother? Could she say to him, hey, sorry I totally over-reacted. Mom and I went at it again because…

    Can’t wait to read next week!

  4. Ashley, this is lovely! A really wonderful and promising revision. I love the new focus on the secret of the name. I want to know what it is. I want to know the backstory! It is really exciting to have the lens focused completely on that, rather than competing with Anna’s relationship with her mother for the moment.

    That said, there are still two places where I stumble and one place where I think something essential may have been lost in the changes.

    The first place I stumble remains with the line “So, why do girls do that?” It still comes out of nowhere, especially now that it’s directly after the wonderful description of Anna wrangling with truth and curls. I feel like you’re using it to pull us into a conversation that’s already in process, but it doesn’t quite work because we’ve just been pulled back to witness the whole group around the fire. So it feels odd not to have been privy to their banter to this point.

    Perhaps it would work better if, after introducing everyone, you pull the lens in closer to Anna, let us sit on her shoulder while she’s in some sort of reverie (about Dan? Jarred?), and then break into her thoughts, and our view, with the dialogue.

    I also think it might work better to tweak the line to be more specific, replacing “that” with what it is girls do. I found it jarring last week and I do this week as well. (I’m also wondering -- do girls still do that?)

    I also stumble on this line: “She couldn’t help it. Jarred’s condescension got her blood boiling.” I don’t really see Jarred’s previous dialogue is condescending. And I start to get lost when we get to the part about eating off a stick. In fact, it feels like Dan’s being condescending here. Not a friend.

    Because what we’ve lost in this version is a sense of Anna and Dan’s relationship. I get that he knows the secret and has promised to keep it, but the stakes with regard to their friendship are not as clear in this version. Did we lose something with the elimination of the car ride? I’m not saying you should put that back in. But I want to know more about their relationship. Are they dating? Are they best friends since diapers? I’m just not sure. I also miss the line about Dan being a good friend until he spills the beans like coke out of the nose. Whatever that line was, it made it very clear that Anna’s does worry about trusting Dan with a secret so dear.

    But this is all small stuff. Easy fixes. You’re so close and you’ve got my investment. Can’t wait to read the whole book one day.

  5. I love what you've done with this - there's a lot more compelling action and the opening is clearer too. There are some verb tense issues to straighten out, and the dialog tags are a bit distracting. It's best to stick with said if you can, and then add some description of the voice tone to tell us what the character's putting into it. You can especially see this in the part with Jarred, interrupted - volunteered. She has an issue with him for some reason, and I think you might smooth that out - perhaps "think like -" "Dickheads?" Anna said, with a sarcastic twang. Something to show what she thinks of Jarred personally.

  6. I think the opening is still awesome. The way you shifted from the protagonist talking about secrets to her sitting on a log was so smooth. It way more clear and a smart transition.

    I think it's not necessary to introduce all the characters in the beginning though, it could overwhelm the reader with too much info.

    Also I think the dialogue kind of loses me a bit. I didn't quite understand it too well.

    Good luck.

  7. Ashley- Great improvements here! The characters and dialogue really come to life! Well done! A couple of recommendations: The flow between your narration and dialogue is a bit uneven. The first line and the sections describing the secret feel a bit forced and unnecessary. Almost everyone knows what it is like to keep a secret so going into that much detail about it is unnecessary unless it reveals something about the character. In this situation it actually feels like your hiding something you shouldn't be. If the secret is a big deal, then it might actually increase tension for the reader to know what it is pretty quick. If we know what he could be revealing, then we're afraid with her that he might actually do it. We understand that it's her name in some way, but knowing that--without further details--makes me feel like she is making a big deal out of nothing and we don't want that when just meeting this character. Make sense?

    Can't wait to see what changes you make! :)