Sunday, January 4, 2015

First 5 Pages January Workshop - McKenna

Name: Virginia A. McKenna
Genre: Young Adult
Title: Rise Up

 I had a mother once too, a grad of UNC and a diehard Tar Heels fan who from the moment I was born seventeen years ago on April 14, 1991, took one look at my large hands and decided right then and there that I was destined to become a first-round baseball draft pick. Funny thing about destiny though, it doesn’t have any street signs so you don’t always end up where you or your mother thought you would. Instead you land right where you’re supposed to.

Fiasco’s’ Superstar, one of my all time faves comes on DC101 as I pull into our driveway, and I
blast it.

“If you are what you say you are a superstar
              Then have no fear, the camera is here
              And the microphones
              And they wanna know oh oh oh oh…”

I start going over in my head what Coach K. said about today’s exhibition opener against St. Albans. Okay, he’s right that they ambushed Nealie for a three-run first inning and that Newman and Patrick let so many balls slip beneath from their gloves they must’ve been off somewhere in lala-land during all nine innings. But that’s no reason to give the Tigers such a hard time, make us show up for extra practice. Pressman and Nealie, our big sluggers, they did their part didn’t’ they? I definitely turned it on as pitcher.  And what about that bunt I snagged in the third inning. What the hell does that fat ass Coach K. want? I mean we played the game hard and we should’ve won but we didn’t. It’s time to move on.

A car horn blasts. I turn, look over my shoulder. My dad's black Expedition pulls up, trying to fit in behind my car, mom’s old green Volvo, and the end of the driveway. The tail end of the car is still out in the street so he blasts the horn again, then makes a frantic pushing motion with his arms. I back up, let him pull his car in front of mine. My dad exits his car, waits for me to catch up to him. We’re both making our way up the driveway towards the house when I notice that my dad is more stooped than usual. Ever since mom died last year, his back seems to be bending more and more, like the old fig tree in our backyard during a strong wind.

“How’d you do against St. Albans,” he asks.

"We lost. You didn't come."

"No, a new load of casualties was medevaced  in this morning from Afghanistan. Maybe next time."

I roll my eyes. How many times have I heard this before? "Yeah sure, I get it. Well, it wasn't the best game. I mean I played okay but Newman and Con, they sucked."

“Gotta practice more," he says as he reaches the first step leading up to the house.

 Although I know that I'm probably dead wrong, I take his suggestion that we should
practice more as an opening and try my luck. "Hey Dad?"

He stops, turns, looks at me as if I’ve interrupted him during an important meeting. "What?"

All of a sudden I feel like a little kid. I look down at my feet.  "I....uhm....I….thought, I mean…. if you have the time, you, me, we could practice pitching sometime, you know like me and mom used to.”

I wait, letting my question sink in, then look up.

“Yeah, sure,” my dad says as he roots around in his briefcase for the key. “But at seventeen it’s high time you realize that adults don’t have a lot of free time to just do what they want to,  that certain things have to come first.” He unlocks the door. “Catch my drift?” 

Then he’s gone, inside. Case closed.

"Yeah, sure. Sounds great. Anything YOU need, Josh, anything at all.”  I think about following him inside, then change my mind. I’ve got better things to do, things that for ME have to come first.

Connor, my best bud since we started playing Little League and the rest of my crew are hanging out as usual behind the dumpster by 7-Eleven when I pull up.  Like me, all of them are still wearing their green and black Tiger uniform. Newman and Connor are the only ones who’ve switched out of their cleats into Converse.

“Hey, pisher extraordnaire,” Con yells out, already buzzed and slurring his words. He’s sitting, leaning against the white brick wall of the 7-Eleven, his knees pulled up to his chin, looking like he did the first time I met him when we were seven and after our Little League T-Ball game opener. His douche of a dad had yelled at him for more than a half hour in front of the whole team for losing. I remember being so angry at Con’s dad that I wanted to slug him over the head with my pint-sized T-bat just to make him shut up. And I remember feeling really bad for Con. We’ve been friends ever since.  

Con has a huge grin plastered across his face.  “Where’ve you been? The game’s been over for more than an hour.”

By the looks of the empty blue and white Bud Light cans lying at their feet, he and the rest of the guys already downed three six-packs. 

“Hey, you couldn’t wait for me?” I say as I jerk my head toward the pile of empties.

 “Yeah, well, we said we’d meet up at six, right after the game. It’s never too early to start the party,” Connor says as he tosses me a Bud, which almost flies over my head. I pop the tab, chug.
Ooh….that’s good!”  I crumple the empty can, lob it onto the heap at our feet. 

Pressing against the brick wall, Connor tries to pull himself up. “So…what’s up, Joshie?” He falls back down on his ass, then looks up at me, winks. “Guess I better stay down.”

“Yeah, good idea.” I laugh a little before grabbing another beer out of the yoke.

Newman, all serious, walks over, motions the rest of us towards Con. “What the hell happened to us?”

I nearly spit out my beer.

“What the hell are you talking about, Newman?”

“Something funny, Joshie?”

“Nah,” I say, shaking my head. “It’s just that we’ve won the DCIIA playoffs three years running, so what the fuck do we need to analyze?”

 “Yeah well Coach said we made one mistake after another.”

I lob another empty into the heap. “Yeah well, I don’t know what playbook he’s looking at but one sorry loss doesn’t mean the season’s over. Maybe if he just let us play our game, instead of trying something new each and every time we go out on the field, we’d be able to keep this winning streak going.” “I mean, we are the champions, we always have been and always will be.”

“C’mon, dude, respect,” Nealie says after throwing a rock hard at the dumpster. The clanging kind of startles us into being quiet for a minute. “Newman’s right. You know that. We played like frigging JV.”

“No, man, we are the champions,” Con yells before jumping to his feet. Patrick and Pressman follow suit and the three of them form a line.  Con places his hands on the shoulders of Patrick, who does the the same to Pressman. Then the three of them start moving like they’re


  1. Welcome, Virginia! Thank you for sharing your work with us. Intriguing piece you have here. I'll make my notes as I read.

    The opening is a bit too dragged out for me and a little confusing. I think you've added a lot of information in such a rushed format that it loses some of its punch. If you break it up, concentrating on the most pertinent information, it will be clearer. Also, I can't see or feel much about your MC at the beginning. Honestly, I might start with the music your MC is listen to and the fact it's a reminder of what Coach said, but I wouldn't tell us what Coach said yet. Let the next action - the car horn - travel the reader into your MC's here and now.

    From the beginning, I need to know something intriguing about your Josh and how he interacts/reacts to the world you're creating like through smells, gestures, sounds, etc... A hint at an absent mother is all I need, maybe connecting a pitcher without a ball being like a kid without a mom or something that hints at your MC's current reality.

    You do give snippets of Josh's innards as you move along, which is good. It's obvious he was much closer to Mom then he is to Dad. And his best friends adds to who he is. That's good.

    Best of luck with your revisions. I look forward to reading!

  2. I would start with - Funny thing about destiny. It doesn’t have any street signs, so you don’t always end up where you or your mother thought you would. Instead you land right where you’re supposed to. But she’ll never know now. (you can get in that his mother is gone.) Just a suggestion.

    You can weave in the fact that his mother is gone, and from what I get in the pages here Josh is expected to do one thing, or at least there are hopes, but what happens is something else entirely. And he seems to be angry, or lost. You should focus on that, if there is a transformation he goes through and that is the backbone of the story.

    It looks like the stakes are maybe disappointing his dad, unless im reading this wrong. I was confused a bit with the beginning paragraph. And I would lose the song lyrics. It doesn’t push the story forward. You can add them in as you tell the story if music is an important part of his tale.

    Mostly I would say to concentrate more on what is underlying, give hints at it in the beginning. Get into his head and have him speak to the reader, we have to want to know what makes him tick. We have to care about why he’s drinking with his friends, why he and his dad seem to have a rift between them.

    I think if you do that, it could be a gem of a story, especially since the protagonist is a young boy, where most of the YA nowadays is focused on the female leads. You could have something here.

    Best of luck and I hope I helped some.

  3. HI! Full disclosure, I'm not a big baseball person, so I definitely can't help there. That said, let's focus on the writing! :D

    You definitely have the boy POV down, so that's awesome!

    I suggest you start by grounding us in the present. Where is your MC, What's he doing? What's he thinking? How does this affect his actions? Dribble in the backstory. I got what was up with Dad, but it also felt a bit one dimensional. Maybe he hesitates, like he wants to, but show us he's exhausted and gives a half-assed excuse. Honestly, I kind of lost a bit of likability for your MC when he was angry at his dad who just spent time helping wounded soldiers so didn't get to his game. Maybe if his job wasn't as important? Or is it important to the plot? You want the reader to connect with your MC even if he's not likable at the beginning, there has to be something there that makes us want to root for him to change. It's really hard writing an unlikable MC, so nailing that is a big deal.
    Can't wait for the revision!

  4. Ooh...a dead mom, a dad that has no time for him and a big "destiny" picked out for him to live up to. I'm sympathizing with Josh already. At the same time, he's kind of a jerk, right? He's out drinking behind the convenience store and doesn't want to admit that the team might have done anything wrong rather than the "fat-assed" coach. This sounds really interesting.

    There were a couple things I didn't follow. I'm not a sports person, so they might be clear to your target audience. "Ambushed Nealie" I didn't get, or the line at the end. Are they doing a conga line? Is that something high school guys would do? I don't picture it as a jock thing.

    I also didn't get the driveway logistics. I guess I'm seeing a narrow driveway and wondering how there's room for him to back up without hitting dad's car.

    Other than that, I have nothing but nitpiks. I thought the birthdate in the first paragraph was too much detail. Italicizing the song name would have helped me figure out that that was a band and a song faster. "Exits" a car - didn't feel like YA voice.

    Good luck and I look forward to reading again next week!


  5. Hi Virginia,

    I'm a sucker for baseball stories, so I liked your story right from the start! I love SLCortazar's suggested opening. The way it currently is, when I read UNC and large hands, I was thinking it would be a basketball story. Also, the line about not ending up where your mother thought you would made me think that maybe he wasn't going to be playing ball at all.

    I also agree about losing the lyrics. Too much potential for copyright trouble.

    I'd consider cutting a portion of (or breaking up) the paragraph with Josh's internal thoughts about Coach K's game summary. I found myself skimming it because it was detailed and long and we don't really know the other characters well enough to feel invested yet.

    Like Rebecca, I was confused about the driveway logistics. I wasn't sure if it advanced the story enough to merit keeping it, but you'd be the best judge of that! I did love the comment about his dad's back seeming more stooped, and his mom's death, and the fig tree.

    I thought it was interesting that his dad knew the name of the team Josh was playing, and remembered that he had a game in the first place. It made me think he might be paying more attention than Josh thinks.

    I really, really liked when Josh asked his dad to play catch. You did a great job of capturing what it meant to him and my heart broke for him.

    Nitpicky, but you start a lot of dialogue with "Yeah, sure," or just "Yeah."

    I think you can cut "my best bud since we started playing Little League," because you have all that in really great detail in the next paragraph. I love that paragraph and what it tells us about both Connor and Josh!

    Finally, it seemed like you may have introduced a few too many characters for the first five pages (which I do in mine, too, so I get it!). There were a lot of names. Would it be possible to just have it be Connor, Josh, and either Newman or Nealie drinking together at the end and just redistribute the dialogue? I really liked the dialogue, and how they pushed at each other ("We played like frigging JV" was my favorite line!). I have four sons, and it all felt very real to me.

    I enjoyed this a lot and am looking forward to reading again next week!

  6. Hi Virginia,

    You’ve done a great job with writing a realistic boy POV, which is great! And you have a lot you can work with this premise. A few suggestions-

    The beginning is confusing, starting with the long first sentence. And you don’t need the song lyrics. These first 5 pages are prime real estate. Use them to hook your reader! Let us know a bit more about Josh and what makes him tick, and what the main story dilemma will be. Will he make mistakes because of his mom’s death? Let his team down? Do something stupid to get his dad’s attention? We need more stakes/tension to hook us.

    You have some very nice descriptions, like “Ever since mom died last year, his back seems to be bending more and more, like the old fig tree in our backyard during a strong wind.” I love that line. Perhaps try to add a bit more descriptions, via Josh’s observation of things. The driveway description was confusing to me, and did little to forward the plot. The dad could just pull in behind him – freeing up more valuable first 5 pages space!

    Also, like Lisa, I thought the dad seemed like a pretty good guy. He asked right away about his game, and remembered the team, and he has a job helping others. If the point is he has time for everyone but Josh – let Josh think that, or say something to that affect.

    As you revise, focus on what the reader needs to know – now, the stakes/tension, and what makes us want to root for Josh, even though he is flawed (like all good characters are!) Cut the rest. Your story will come into sharper focus.

    Good luck with the revision – I look forward to reading next week!

  7. I haven't read any of the other comments yet, since I wanted to read your pages "fresh."

    For the opening sentence, the phrasing of, "I had a mother once too..." confused me. I assume from this one phrase that the mother is dead, but the "too" makes me wonder who the narrator is speaking to, and whether the "too" is a connection to the UNC context (as in, the narrator AND the mother are both grads of UNC), or to the idea that everyone has a mother. I'm probably overcomplicating it. The sentence is also too long. Maybe try something like, "I had a mother once. She was a grad of UNC and a diehard Tar Heels fan who, from the moment I was born seventeen years ago, took one look at my large hands and knew I was destined to play baseball."

    In the chunk of internalized monologue about Coach K., I admit to feeling lost. I am so not a sports person, and I have a pathetic understanding of that lingo. What I did grasp led me to believe that the narrator IS playing baseball, but the end of paragraph one suggests that the narrator ended up doing something else.

    I think there are too many actions happening with the driveway incident (the cars arranging themselves). Can you condense into one or two sentences?

    In the dialogue, I made myself laugh when I read "medevaced" as "med-eh-vased" the first time.

    Further down, I'm not sure I understand the father's motivation in looking at the narrator as if he'd been, "interrupted during an important meeting." He was just speaking with her seconds before, so perhaps something about him retreating into his memories?

    I like the "Case closed" phrase, the double imagery of his actual briefcase closing and the narrator's request being shut down.

    The line of dialogue, "Yeah, sure. Sounds great..." also confused me. I thought the narrator spoke it on the first read-through, and that the father was being called Josh as a sort of insult. I also assumed the narrator was female, but that's my default and an unfair assumption. However, if Josh is named earlier on, it would establish more of the dynamic. I think it's interesting that Josh threw balls with his mother rather his father, a twist on the traditional "role."

    Further down, there are two lines of dialogue that both seem to belong to Josh. The section of, "Yeah well...winning streak going," and, "I mean, we are the champions..." Should they be placed together, or does someone else speak that latter line?

    For the last paragraph, there's an awkward passive in, "Con places his hands on the shoulders of Patrick." Maybe, "Con slaps his hands on Patrick's shoulders." It also ends in the middle of a sentence.