Sunday, December 14, 2014

First 5 Pages December Workshop - Baird Rev 2

Name: Jeri Baird
Genre: Middle Grade Magical Realism

The day the preacher called me cursed, I knew my life had changed. His words burnt into my brain the way lightning scorches a tree. It didn’t kill me, but it sure did sting.

Mama and I stood at the front of the church ready to escape into a sunny April day meant for cut-offs, kites, and lazy bike rides. I shook Preacher Glenn’s hand and had one foot out the door, when he bent to whisper in Mama’s ear, “Rose, that daughter of yours is cursed the way she brings trouble to our little town.”

Mama turned bright red, but she raised herself tall and said loud enough for everyone to hear, “My Lily is not cursed.” Then she narrowed her eyes and gave him the look that Daddy says when you see it you’d better run. “I think we’ve had enough small mindedness in this church. We won’t be back.”

I’d never seen Mama with so much fire in her which made me think that some part of her thought he might be right. Mama marched me right out the door, and by the way she stomped around, I could tell she was still mad when we got home.

I asked her about it, but she said, “Lily, it’s ridiculous. This is 1989. I think we’re past believing in curses. Preacher Glenn’s an old man who doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” She flipped her blonde hair with a flourish. “We’re not discussing this.”

I wished she would have let me talk about it. I had to swallow my worry where it settled in my belly like a serving of Mama’s Brussels sprouts (no cheese). That was the day my stomach started hurting and no amount of pink Pepto-Bismol helped.

Ever since I could remember, my gut talked to me, but I decided right then to never again listen, no matter how insistent it became. You can imagine my alarm when the very next day, deep down, in the part of me that knew things my mind didn’t understand, I got that flutter.

My head went to war with my gut, but lost quicker than a snow cone in July. When I had that feeling, I had to move, and wherever I ended up, trouble would be waiting. Always. And if the preacher was right, it would be my fault.

I jumped on my bike and shot off. I should have grabbed my jacket. The wind whistled clean through my New Kids on the Block t-shirt.

Cursed, cursed, cursed floated in the air as I rode down the middle of the street. I passed Tanner Wilson’s house, hoping he wouldn’t be out, but luck wasn’t with me.

Tanner dribbled his basketball to the edge of the driveway and hollered, “Hey, Lily. Are you looking for trouble?”

He was usually the one causing it, so Tanner liked to follow me if he thought there was some coming. He seemed more interested than usual, which made me think he’d already heard what the preacher said, even though Tanner had snuck out after Sunday School.

When you live in a town as small as Blue Springs, news zips around faster than Michael Jordan going in for a lay-up. And if it’s something you don’t want told, it’s like a slam dunk – exciting for everyone but the person who got schooled.

Sure enough, Tanner jumped on his bike.

I stood to pedal faster. “Shut up, Tanner. You know I don’t look for it.” I got my bike for my tenth birthday, and since my legs were almost two years longer, it jerked back and forth.

Tanner paced me on the beat up bike he’d found at the junk pile. He could have bought a new one with the money he’d spent on his Air Jordan high-tops, but he was pretty proud to be the first boy at school to get them. His bangs flopped in his eyes until he untwisted the Nike sweat band from his wrist and tamed them.

We skidded into the playground in time to see Nick Fuller go sailing off a swing. He rolled on the ground, crying, and holding his foot. Nick was part of our gang of friends, but only because there weren’t that many kids in Blue Springs. I threw my bike down and ran to help, but Nick kicked at me.

“Leave me alone, curse girl. You jinxed me.”

I didn’t know whether to laugh because that was so ridiculous or cry because he believed it. What I wanted to do was yell at him. What I wanted to do was kick his good foot.

Instead, I sucked in my lip. Once again, I’d arrived too late to stop the trouble. And that was my curse.

Last winter when Tanner fell through the ice, I ran up as Nick’s daddy pulled him out.

When Mrs. Higgins fell at the post office and broke her hip, I showed up before the ambulance.

When the library caught fire and almost burned to the ground, my gut sent me flying on my bike just as the flames shot out the front window.

I could go on, but you see what I mean. If there was trouble, I was there. Pretty much everyone in town knew how my gut worked. That’s why the preacher called me cursed.

Since Nick didn’t want my help, I grabbed my bike. Tanner could help him.

As I rode away, I heard Tanner say, “Dude, that was awesome. You should have seen yourself flying through the air.”

That was Tanner for you.

I took my time going home, needing to ponder my fate. I was used to being different. Daddy was black and Mama was white. It didn’t bother me being the only family in town that wasn’t all white. But being proclaimed cursed? That bothered me a lot.

At the edge of town, I stopped. I wasn’t allowed to ride on the country roads. I gazed at the green sprouts poking up in straight lines in the cornfield, while my thoughts went round and round. Nick would tell the kids at school I was cursed, and I already got called names I didn’t dare tell Mama. Daddy called her feisty, but I called her embarrassing. If I told her about Nick calling me curse girl, I don’t know what she’d do.

I wound back through town. Shadows fell across my porch when I parked my bike at the side. After I explained why I was almost late for supper, Daddy said, “Lily Kathryn Taylor, you’re led to trouble like tracks lead a freight train.”

My daddy was right about me and trouble. It got to be that sometimes no one wanted me around, they were so afraid of trouble coming. Except I didn’t bring trouble – it brought me. Unless the preacher was right.

The next Sunday, we stayed home from church. That was fine with me. I never liked sitting that long, listening to a grown-up man wearing a dress, telling me I was going to you-know-where, unless I repented my sins and got dunked clean under in the water of baptism. Especially one who thought I was cursed.

Tanner’s mom made him get baptized, on account of him being so much trouble. He bragged about how he made sure one pinky finger didn’t go all the way under. I didn’t think I’d brag about going to you-know-where for lack of one finger getting wet, but then I wasn’t Tanner Wilson.


  1. Hi Jeri! This is great. I love the beginning, and I'm glad you took the advice and broke that down into three sentences. It's such a fantastic opening.

    Love the addition of "Once again, I'd arrived too late to stop the trouble." This shows so much, and I have a clear understanding of why Lily wonders if she's cursed. You've done a great job on these rewrites making her voice distinct. I'm dying to read more and to find out what sort of trouble Lily finds next. Good luck with this!

    1. Amanda - thanks for your help during the workshop!

  2. Jeri-

    You have improved your writing quite a bit and given the reader a much better understanding of Lily’s battle with her gut leading her to trouble. You’ve included some wonderful bits of description, such as the way her bike jerks back and forth because she’s grown taller. Lily has a very strong, appealing voice and I like seeing a character of color.

    That said, I’m still not convinced that an entire town would really see Lily as cursed and know about “her gut leading her to trouble.” Who has she told about her gut? How do people know? And as an adult reading this I can’t help but think that if Nick is dumb enough to jump off the swing, it’s his own fault he hurt his ankle. And I honestly think a twelve-year-old reader would see that too. Lily didn’t push him. She didn’t force him to get on the swing, or to jump. Perhaps you haven’t delved deep enough into that scene. Maybe Lily should arrive at the scene just as Nick yells “Hey, watch this!” Maybe the reader needs to feel the dread in Lily’s stomach as Nick goes sailing through the air. Her heart pounds. She sucks in her breath. She covers her mouth with her hand to keep from throwing up. Because her gut is telling her that, once again, this is not going to end well. Physical descriptions make writing more alive. Make that scene more real, and full of action and you’ll go along way towards convincing me.

    I wish you the best of luck with your writing!

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Thanks Jenny for your suggestions! I've enjoyed being a part of the workshop with you!

  3. Jeri,

    This is wonderfully evocative! Totally agree with JennyC's comment on the swing scene, but that's about it. My only other comment is on this line:

    Cursed, cursed, cursed floated in the air as I rode down the middle of the street.

    Since she's on her bike, it might be richer to have the sounds of her wheels on the pavement (or something else bike related) start to sound like the word 'cursed.' Since 'floated in the air' might seem cliche the way it is now.

    Small quibble, just figured I'd mention it.

    LOVE the new beginning, great job!!!

  4. Peter - thanks for all your help with this! Love the idea of making the cursed come from the bike sounds. I'll see what I can do with that.

  5. I like the idea of the wheels sounding like the word cursed!

  6. Hi Jeri! You have mastered the MG voice, and I applaud you. It is really hard to get right. But Lily sounds convincingly like an 11 or 12 year old--as do all the other kids she encounters. Well done! MG voice can be the toughest to do.
    My main concern is--why is this set in 1989? My rule regarding historical fiction is that the setting has to justify its presence in the plot. Is there some compelling plot related reason that this has to be set in the 1980s? A very recent "historical" fiction setting can be problematic, because it often isn't far enough away from our current day to feel sufficiently historical. So, unless there is some reason this has to be set in 1989, set it nowadays. There is prejudice everywhere in this country, and there will be small towns (and not small towns) where a child of two different races would be considered cursed partially for that reason.
    Anyway, great job! Thank you for letting me read this.

    1. Ginger - thanks for your comments! Originally, this was set in current time, so I can easily change back. I appreciate knowing before I start querying!

  7. Oh wow, Jeri!! Way to take this to the next level. I think you've really tightened things and kept it moving forward. Well done! My only concern--and this is a very subjective personal preference, so feel free to ignore--is that I still don't have a clear grasp of what things *look* like. I can see that you've added a few more details (and I really like what you've chosen to show, such as the cornfield sprouts), but I'd like just a few more so I can really SEE this world. But as said, that's a personal preference because I like visual stories--so feel free to ignore if it doesn't resonate with you.

    Great job overall, and thank you so much for sharing!!

    1. Susan - Thanks for your help! Setting is my weakness, so I'll have to work on that in this story. I appreciate all your comments.

  8. Jeri,
    This is so fun! Great job with it. I particularly like the line about Nick being a part of their gang only because there weren't that many kids in town. I also like that you added some examples of why Lily is considered cursed - though it did make me wonder why people think she's causing the trouble, since she only seems to arrive after it's started. Anyway, great story. Thanks for sharing it, and thanks for your comments on my piece!

    1. Katharine - thanks for your comments and suggestions!