Sunday, January 11, 2015

First 5 Pages January Workshop - McKenna Rev 1

Name: Virgina A. McKenna
Genre: YA Contemporary
Title:  Rise Up

Chapter 1

Thwack! The best sound in the world: a baseball careening off a bat!

I toss on my green and white Woodrow Wilson Tigers baseball shirt, check that my cleats are tied tight then tilt my chin upwards toward the light to check out my reflection in the cracked mirror above the sink. Still as smooth as a baby’s butt.  Crap! Not one whisker!  At seventeen, I look more like the friggen Chinese hairless cat I saw last week on National Geographic than your average teenage guy. The team’s already warming up as I race onto the baseball field. I’m going to kill that fat moron that was ahead of me in the hallway, carrying a tuba.

Way out past right field, I see a sliver of the Washington Monument poking out above the trees. Wonder if anyone in Tigers baseball team history ever hammered a ball deep enough to hit it?  I shake my head. Nah, that monument has to be at least a quarter mile away. You’d have to hit the ball perfectly dead center, in the sweet spot of the bat, and be on steroids to boot!

 I stop a ways behind the backstop, my shoes churning up a small cloud of red dust.  Thirty or more wannabee baseball stars of the future, just like me, are crowding the field, warming up, playing catch with partners or having balls hit at them: pop-ups, grounders, line drives and slow rollers. Each and every one of the guys out here is good, really good. No wonder we’re the best team in the division.

I flex my glove open and stare at three faint tick marks that are etched into the shallow pocket of the glove. One for each year I’d been named MVP for the Tigers. My mom had carved them in last April with her very own Swiss Army pocketknife, right before she died.  I trace the marks with my index finger. She’d barely had any strength left by then but she’d wanted to do it all by herself. “Every time you see these marks, you’ll think of me, Josh,” she’d said.  My eyes start tearing up. She’d been wrong. I don’t just remember her when I see the tick marks, I remember her all the time. Man, what I wouldn’t give to really have her standing here next to me right now, pumping me up.  She was always so good at that!

Coach S. waves me over to him with his black and green cap that has a big W on the front of it.  “Let’s go, Nowak,” he yells. We’ve got a game to win today.”

I blink, wipe the tears away fast, and then take off across the field.

 “You’re late,” coach says to me in a clipped tone when I reach him.

  “Yeah, I know, but I ….” 

            Coach S. holds up his hat, stopping me midsentence. “Save it. I’ve heard it all before.”

            He puts his hat back on and shakes his head. Then he checks his watch, snorts.  “You know, Nowak, I don’t get you. You’ve got a lot of skill, I grant you that, but skill alone isn’t going to make you a superstar.  There’s a lot more that goes into being….”

 “Hey, Coach S.,” a husky voice yells out. Coach and I both turn. Con, my best friend since Little League, comes running towards us, nearly knocking us both over.

 “Jesus Christ, Connor!” Coach S. yells after pushing Con off him.

“Hey, Joshie,” Con says with a huge grin plastered across his face. He jerks his chin at Coach S., winks, then  mouths the words ‘Bite me.’

I slap him with a high five.

 “You two are closer than two dogs in heat, you know that?” He looks from Con to me. “And if you don’t get your act together, you’re not going to land anywhere except in the same pile of dog crap!”

I grab Con’s arm and we start kicking our heels up at the same time. “Our act is together, Coach, can’t you tell?”

 “Look I’ve just about had it with the both of you,” Coach S. says. “Why don’t you think about that while you’re running some laps?”

“Laps?” Connor whines.

“You’re twenty minutes late, Connor! You know I don’t put up with that.” Coach cocks an eyebrow at him. “It’s disrespectful to me and to the rest of the team. If I’ve told you s once, I’ve said it a hundred times…” the coach continues jabbering as I tune out. Jeez, this guy must be related to my dad, both hard asses when it comes to being on time. I feel as if I’m sitting at the dinner table, listening to my dad rant on and on about how important it is to have good manners, to always be on time.  For a second, I wonder whether the coach was ever in the military.

“That goes for you, too,” the coach  says,  jolting me out of my thoughts. He’s glaring
at me and I try to be serious, but it’s hard. All I can think of is where the hell he got his crazy ass ears. They stick out so far from his square face that he looks like he could be Shrek’s double.  I look down at my cleats, biting the inside of my lip.

             “Something funny, Nowak?”  Both of the coach’s ears move at the same time. I’m about to laugh out loud but the pinched look on coach’s face lets me know that’s not such a great idea. I clench my fists tight. “No…I…uh…”  Then I glance at Connor and we both burst out laughing.

 A ball whizzes by Coach S. barely missing his shoulder. “What the hell are you doing, Newman?” Coach S. says, walking towards the infield. “If your arm is so out of whack, maybe you should sit out the first half of the game?”

Con and I start running towards the infield. “Whoa,” Coach S. says. “What do you guys think you’re doing?”

We stop and look at him like he’s asked us what the circumference of the moon is.

 “What are you waiting for,” coach asks, pointing towards the open field behind infield.  “Give me ten laps, back and forth between here and the locker room and then get your tardy asses out on the diamond, d’ya hear me?”

We’re in the midst of the fifth lap when Coach S.’s booming voice echoes across the field.
“Okay, boys, let’s bring it in.”

The other players stop what they’re doing and head towards home plate. “That goes for you, too, Nowak, Pressman” he yells, motioning at us. Con and I take off and a minute later we’re both standing towards the back of entire Tigers team.

The coach removes his hat. “Okay, let’s try to make the rest of this warm-up as productive as
possible.” He looks at his watch. “We’ve got about twenty minutes left before St. Albans gets here, so let’s play a quick scrimmage.” He points at me, Connor and a few other guys. “You’re up first. Let’s see what you can do.”

Yes! I grin. Con and a couple of the other guys who’d been picked too, yell out “Saweet” at the same time.  A lot of the guys, who weren’t picked first, start to grumble.

“Shut your bellyaching,” coach says.”Get your butts up into the bleachers and pay attention, maybe you’ll learn something.” He marches toward the fence behind home plate and picks up a bag of bats and balls. “Nowak, I want to try something new. You play catcher for right now.”

“But I….”

“You wanna play or not?”

“Yeah, yeah, of course I do.”

“Well then here.” Coach bends down, picks up a catcher’s mitt and a mask and throws
them at me. “Here’s a mitt, and here’s the mask. Put ‘em on!”

I toss my glove behind the fence and put on the mitt and mask. I squat down and
point my mitt hand at the pitcher. I shake my head. This is a bunch of shit. I should be playing pitcher. What is coach trying to do?  

 Coach S, carrying a bat and some balls, places himself at home plate in front of me.

“Jackass,” I say to myself.

 “Okay, boys, let’s make this look good,” he shouts out at the infield. “I don’t want to see one
ball go by the infield, got it?”

He smashes a line drive towards first base. Newman, on first base, makes the stop but then
throws it over my head, almost sending the ball out of play. I snag it though.

            “Ha,” I yell at Newman.

 At exactly that moment, a pale girl, with bright red short hair and several pierced earrings, walks past the infield. She’s struggling to hold on to several heavy books.

Ginette. Makes sense, every time Con’s got something important to do, you can bet your ass she’ll be there, throwing him off. She sometimes makes me mad as hell with all the antiwar stuff she spouts off, but you know what, she’s cute, and I wouldn’t mind carrying her books.

“Hey, Gins,” Connor yells. “Come on over here.” Then he acts like he’s hooking up with her, making all kinds of long and loud slurping noises. All the guys, including me, start laughing.

The girl rolls her eyes and frowns. “You’re an idiot, you know that,” she says kind of serious and laughing.
 “Why you gotta be like that, Gins?”

Hitting left-handed, Coach Keeny lasers a line-drive towards Con out at short. The ball whizzes by Con, who’s still focused on Ginette.

Coach checks his swing. His face twists up into an angry scowl.  “Pressman,” he yells. “Are you paying attention to the game, or not?”  He turns and tosses me the bat. “Here, Nowak, hold on to this.”

I stand, grab the bat mid-air and remove my mask. This isn’t gonna be good, I say to myself as
I watch the coach charge over to Connor.

“How’re we gonna win, Pressman, if every little thing distracts you?” Coach jaws, so close to Con’s ear, it looks as if he’s chewing on it. “I want you to think about that on your way to my office. I need my cell phone!”

Just at that moment, a couple of St. Albans guys show up on the field. Con glances at them and then pleads with Coach S.: “What, you’re taking me out?  But…the game’s about to start,” he stammers.

“Come on, coach,” I say. “Con’s just fooling around. We need him in the game, you know that.”


  1. I like starting the story with the anticipation of the game. It seems like a good place to start a sports story (though I’m no expert on this). It definitely gives us a good sense of your mc (late b/c he’s looking at the mirror but blaming it on the tuba guy!), his best friend (stepping in as the coach starts to come down on the MC) and the coach (definitely tough!) For me, this is a better start.

    I love your first paragraph, but I think I’d love them even more if you could tie it to a particular ball being hit, rather than just the sound. Since he’s in the locker room, it could be the hit that brought in the winning run in the last game…whatever. Just a specific image to go with the sound.

    In the second paragraph, I’d love to know how he feels. Is he worried about being late for warm ups when he’s in the locker room? If so, why’s he looking for whiskers rather than moving? Or is he so good he thinks he can be late and get away with it?

    Even once he gets to the field, he’s still moving slow…stopping behind the backstop to look at the players, staring at his glove. If he thinks he’s too good for the team, this is fine. If he’s really worried, could he do these things while he’s running to get on the field?

    I like the image of mom carving the tick marks herself…and of him wishing he was there pumping her up. I’d love a sentence or two of what mom would have said if she were there/ what she had said in the past.

    I was thrown for a second by the fact that there were two coaches but only one was named. Could name the second one, or title him assistant coach or whatever?
    I was also thrown by the fact that Connor was also late. On my first read through I thought he was running up from his position on the field. If he was also late, wouldn’t they have been in the locker room together? And come out together?
    The “kicking up our heels” routine sounds fun, but I can’t quite visualize it. Could you make it more clear?

    Great revision. I’m looking forward to reading again next week. Rebecca

  2. Wow! I'm so glad you were brave enough to try something new. I really like this opening better and even though as I said, I don't know baseball, I was able to follow so YAY!

    the opening threw me off because I thought he'd hit the ball, but then he's looking in the mirror (which you might hear is a bit cliche for descriptions, so be careful though personally I don't mind this).

    You've done a great job defining his character and showing us his flaws but making him still sympathetic to kudos!! Cuz that's HARD to do.

    My biggest complaint now is that I need to see more of a hint of what the conflict of the book is going to be. It doesn't have to be spelled out, but it feels like most of the conflict isn't exactly threatening to him and it may be even more so to his friend. Can you give him some stakes? Because I think if you do, you really have something here!

    Can't wait to read!

  3. Hi Virginia,

    I really like the energy of the new beginning! You’ve worked so hard on this and it shows! I was confused by the first line, though – I would cut it, or connect it to what comes next. Also, the next scene, with him looking in the mirror, although it is a funny description, looking in the mirror is generally considered a clichéd beginning. I think he can absentmindedly run his hands along his smooth face, and you can include some of the same great descriptions. I would also consider moving this part – I wouldn’t put it in the first paragraph, where you are trying to hook the reader. Lastly, Josh making fun of the (again cliché) heavy boy playing an instrument, makes him not very likeable.

    I love the scars, and him thinking about his mom. I wonder if that might be a place to start? Putting on his jersey, thinking about the scars and his mom, and then getting to practice late and getting yelled at? You could then connect the coach to the dad – and maybe have another interior thought or two about mom, and how she understood him. We’d know the story is about dealing with the loss of his mom and baseball from the get go. But I’d like to know what else the story will be about, or at least have it hinted it. What are the stakes for Josh? Is he close to screwing up his place on the team? What would that mean – college? future? What is the big dilemma in the book? Give us a hint or a taste of it here. For example, if it is getting thrown off the team, coach could say I’m sick and tired of you screwing up – I told you one more chance – or some such.

    Lastly, the following scene is a bit slow. I think you can tighten it a bit, and move the story forward. If the girl isn’t going to be important, I’d cut her.

    I’m really enjoying reading this – good luck with this revision!

  4. Hi Virginia,

    I like the changes you made, they give more depth to the read. Im thinking this girl Gin has something to do with a conflict? If so, I would mention her earlier. The piece about her hints that Josh likes her, and shes his friends girl. So if that’s the main conflict we should be introduced earlier.

    Im not sure of the underlying conflict though, It could be that he has feelings for his best friends girl. Or that he is lacking the support and comfort of his mother, having to be a different person now due to his fathers lack of attentiveness. Im guessing at these, if I have to guess then maybe the stakes/conflict should be closer to the opening. If this is a sports story its great, but if it isn’t I think the sports part of it can be weaved through instead of right off the bat ---no pun intended lol.

    The first line does throw me off. Hearing the sound of a bat, I think can be changed to crack, but I don’t think you need that here. It leads us to believe he hit the ball , as Lisa stated. You could reword that with something like : I hear the crack of a baseball careening off a bat. The best sound in the world. Or some variation of that.

    I don’t like the comment about the fat moron, but if your goal is to have the reader dislike Josh then it’s a good example of his arrogance. I get that he has a touch of it, his disrespect to the coach. I never played sports in school but would a coach let them get away with that? Is it realistic?

    Several is used twice here. Id change that. At exactly that moment, a pale girl, with bright red short hair and several pierced earrings, walks past the infield. She’s struggling to hold on to several heavy books.

    Con calls Gin over to him, but arent they on the field already practicing? Would the coach allow her to go onto the field? If he’s out at short, which I had to look up to see where that is on the field lol, that’s behind the pitcher. It doesn’t make sense that he would yell to her from there and she would hear him.

    Hope these help, it’s an interesting story and would def appeal to young sports fans. - Shannon

  5. Hi Virginia,

    I agree with the comments, that the first line is a little confusing. I immediately assumed Josh was on the field, so that was jarring. Also, you have two "check"s in the first sentence of the paragraph below.

    I'm okay with the "fat moron" as long as it's meant to make him unlikable or in a place where he's depressed and hates everything. Maybe make his motivation clearer?

    I like how you established the location and setting much more clearly! I understand the context better (sports lingo is NOT my expertise). I'd maybe minimize some of the exclamation points throughout. It makes Josh seem enthusiastic and excitable, but his overall tone is dour. I don't think exclamations support his persona.

    The line, "I slap him with a high five" gave me a very hilarious mental image :-) Maybe something like, "I raise my palm for a high-five, and our hands slap together."

    The description (or rather, Josh's description) of Coach S. makes me like him less. I'm not feeling as sympathetic about him as I want to feel. I still don't mind his insults, but I need more context or internal monologue about his lashing out. He could have another flash of his mother's fragile face, THEN think the insulting thoughts about the Coach, and add another tag like, "screw him. He doesn't understand anything." That way, his hostility can be connected to a defense mechanism.

    After Ginette arrives, Josh refers to her as "the girl." I'd just use her name or a nickname.

    In the last third, I did feel slightly lost because of the game talk, but I'm sure that's just me being a non-sports person. Hopefully, you WILL have a sports person to comment on that part so you'll know if anything should be revised.

  6. Hi Virginia,

    I was very excited when I saw your revision! At first I thought you were going to start it in the middle of the game, and that the reader was going to get to see it all fall apart. I loved that idea for a start, but as I read on, I liked what you did even better!

    In the first paragraph, maybe add a line like "I love that sound even now, when it's just a reminder that I'm late." ?? But then maybe do make him hurry up a little. The beardlessness is hilarious, but it would be just as funny if you had him looking in the mirror after the game.

    I love the reference to the Washington Monument, and -- like last time -- the paragraph on the tick marks and his mom.

    I thought your dialogue was really good. You could cut the "with" from "I slap him with a high five." Also the "not" and "anywhere except" from the next paragraph.

    In the "'You're twenty minutes late'" paragraph, you have "you s" -- not sure if you mean "you" or "youse". Either works! I like how you get the reference to his dad in there.

    Love the coach's ears!!

    Maybe "pitching" instead of "playing pitcher"?

    I like the introduction of Ginette. And I love that the coach is so close to Con's ear that he looks like he's chewing on it! Great image.

    I think you've done a really good job of capturing a bunch of high school kids. Your voice is great! Good luck!