Sunday, January 18, 2015

First 5 Pages January Workshop - McKenna Rev 2

Name: Virginia A.McKenna
Genre: YA Contemporary
Rise Up (2nd revision)

                              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 leave the locker room.  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!
       Wish I could be the one to hit it though.  Especially today.  According to Coach Silverstein, some college scouts, including one from UNC, are going to be checking us out today. This’s the day I’ve been waiting for ever since I started playing Little League back in first grade.
       I stop a ways behind the chain link fence, my shoes churning up a small cloud of red dust. Sixteen 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’ve been the best team in the division for three years running.
       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 Woodrow Wilson 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 have her standing here next to me right now, pumping her fist and saying: “I believe in you. You can do it!” She was always so good at that.
       “Hey, Josh,” a girl yells. I blink, wipe the tears away fast as I realize whose voice that is, then turn. Ginette, my best friend Con’s on-again, off-again girlfriend, is walking towards me, struggling to hold on to a stack of big and heavy books.  She’s wearing khaki colored cargo pants and a camouflage t-shirt, and has about seven piercings in each earlobe. And even though she sometimes makes me mad as hell with the anti-war stuff she spouts off, I like her spunk and she’s cute, to boot.  I wouldn’t mind carrying her books.
       Out of the corner of my eye, I see Coach S. waving me over to him with his black and green Tigers hat. I should get out there I know. I glance around the field, up into the bleachers. Completely empty. Nobody, not even one of the scouts is here yet. 
        I hold up my hand, wave at Coach S. as if to say ‘hold your horses,’ but stay put.  I turn around to face Ginette. “Hey you. No SAW meeting today,” I ask, meaning the Students Against War after-school club she’s been vice president of for the past three years.
       “Nope, the meetings are on Wednesdays. Today is Tuesday.” She kneels down and drops the books onto the ground in front of her, then stands up. She looks out towards where the rest of the team is practicing.  “Big game today, huh? You guys ready?” 
        “Yeah…I…uhm… sure, why not,” I stumble.
       “No reason.  It’s just that I heard St. Albans’s new pitcher is awesome. He threw a no-hitter last week against Anacostia, didn’t he? 
       “Yeah. Well one no-hitter can’t beat our three-year win….”
        Coach S.’s voice butts in across the field.  “Let’s go Nowak!”
       “I…uhm…I gotta go,” I say.
       She nods. “Yeah, sure. Go on.” She smiles.
        For a sec, I don’t answer, because I’m kind of lost in her smile and liking it.  She nudges one of my cleats with her shoe. “Hey?”
       I shake my head like I just woke up from a deep sleep.
       She jerks her head in the direction of the field. “You better get going.”
       “Yeah,” I say, walking away from her. “I’ll see you later.”
       “We’ve got a game to win today, Nowak,” coach says in a clipped tone when I reach him. 
       “Yeah, I know that, it’s just that...”
       “Save it,” coach says, holding up his hat, stopping me. “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 been talking about this day ever since I’ve known you. You know the scouts are going to be here and yet you’re late.”

      I look back at the cement bleachers. Ginette’s the only one sitting in them, up in the highest row. “Yeah, but no one’s here yet, coach,” I say.

         “You just don’t get it do you,” coach says, glaring at me.   “I’m not just talking about the scouts, Nowak. Whether you’re one minute late or twenty, you’re late, it’s disrespectful to me and to the rest of the team.”  Coach cocks an eyebrow.
       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, bite 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…” 

       “You’ve got a lot of skill, Nowak, I grant you that, but skill alone isn’t going to get you into college ball.  Respect for your team is. And part of that respect comes from being on time.”  The coach continues jabbering but 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 blabber on and on about how important it is to have respect for others, to have good manners, and to always be on time. I wonder if coach was ever in the military like my dad. Then I wonder about the fifth of whiskey my dad downed last night and how he was late to Walter Reed this morning. Are those examples of good manners, being on time, respect?

        “Hey, Coach S.,” a husky voice yells out. Coach and I both turn. Con jogs over towards us from first base, 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 Con five and then we both burst out laughing, falling over each other.
        “You two are closer than two dogs in heat, you know that,” coach says. 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, like we’re doing the Can-Can. “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.
        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 run some laps, too?”
       Seeing that coach is focused on Newman, Con and I head towards the infield. “Whoa,” coach 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, guys, 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.
Coach removes his hat, checks 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, Con and a few other guys. “You’re up first. Let’s see what you can do.”

       “Saweet,”  Con, me and the other guys who’d been picked yell out together. A lot of the guys, who weren’t picked first, though, start to whine.
       “Shut your bellyaching,” coach says.”Get your butts into the dugout 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, sure.”

“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.  How am I going to get the scouts to notice me if I’m not playing my position? 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 hiss under my breath.

  “Okay, let’s make this look good,” he shouts. “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 that moment, Ginette moves from the top row of the bleachers down to the lowest.

      “Hey, Gins,” Con yells. “Coming down to get a closer look?” 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.
       Ginette rolls her eyes and frowns. “You’re an idiot, Connor, you know that,” she says kind of serious and laughing.
       Yeah, he’s an idiot all right, I’m thinking as I slap the inside of my mitt.
       Hitting left-handed, Coach S.  lasers a line-drive towards Con out at short. Still focused on Ginette, the ball whizzes by him.
       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!”
       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 think this version gets to the heart of the story much faster. Great job! Your MC is fooling around in the locker room then with a girl before the big game b/c he doesn’t see anything as important until the agents arrive, or at least spectators. If you wanted to tighten further, I’m not sure you need both the locker room hold-up and the girl. One of the two, plus the lecture from his coach is enough that we know he’s not as serious as he could be about the game and the team.

    I like the addition of what Mom would say if she were there for the big game. I’d love if the last sentence in that paragraph talked about his emotions when Mom “pumped him up.” “She always made me feel…” It’s such an emotional moment for a teenage boy with the memories of mom’s support for his sport ambitions. That that would really drive it home.

    Nitpiks: I think if you say “wannabe” you don’t need “of the future.”
    Where holds up his had “as if to say ‘hold your horses,’” you could trim “but stay put” and “around” to tighten.

    “Yeah,” I say, walking away from her. “I’ll see you later.”
    You don’t need both the dialogue tag and the action tag. It just saves a word here, but across a manuscript, using only one tag saves a lot of words.

    Great job! Good luck with the manuscript.

  2. Hi Virginia,

    I think this version flows really well! I still think it might work better if you put the mirror scene later, though. It's a good scene, and I don't think you should cut it, but it would be great to have Josh be already on the field, looking up to see the ball, when he hears the "thwack."

    I like the "Wish I could be the one to hit it" paragraph a lot. I love that you brought the scouts into it. The game feels much more important, and the reader really feels how much Josh has to lose if he doesn't get his act together.

    Paragraph 6: maybe instead of "She'd been wrong," something like "She didn't know how right she'd been. Except that I don't just. . ." ?

    I really like the way you introduce Ginette and how it makes Josh's feelings about her more clear. My only comments on that paragraph are super-picky. "Big, heavy books" instead of "big and heavy books"? Also, "to boot" sounded too old for him.

    I love "because I’m kind of lost in her smile and liking it." !!

    This is a great piece. I wish you all the best with it!


  3. What a great revision! I have a much better sense of Josh, and what's he's struggling with. I am already rooting for him!

    A few things - I still don't think you need the scene in the locker room. It doesn't add anything to the story, and especially it shouldn't be in these valuable first 5 pages! You might want to try your first line - and then Josh's eyes following the ball towards the monument, and picking it up there.

    I like the details you added with Josh and Ginette, it makes him instantly likeable and relateable. And including more about his mom is great as well. I'd love to see another interior thought or two, where Josh really lets us know how much he's missing her and struggling with her death.

    I am wondering about the coach lecturing Josh, and then Josh, and especially Con, being so rude. I would think he'd bench the pair of them - or if they are that valuable that he needs them to win - have Josh think it - he's dying to bench us, but winning is more important to him or some such. As is, I find it surprising a coach would put up with them at all.

    Great job adding the scouts, and the amazing pitcher - but you can work with this more to amp up the stakes for Josh, and create more tension in these pages.

    Good luck with this - I've enjoyed reading it!

  4. Hi Virginia!

    I'm definitely feeling this story now. I can be your test audience for non-sports people!

    There's something about the "thwack" that feels too young right now. What if you dove right into, "The sound of a baseball careening off a bat is the best sound in the world." and then right to, "I see a sliver of the Washington Monument poking out above the trees, and I wonder if anyone..." I agree that the locker room scene could be pushed to later.

    In the paragraph where Ginette is introduced, the use of "to boot" for the second time does strike me as too old (I agree that the whole phrase might not reflect Josh's voice), and his statement that he wouldn't mind carrying her books sounds a little old fashioned for a snarky kid. Maybe something about how he might feel more nervous playing the game in front of her? That he wishes he could hit the Monument to impress her?

    The part where the coach yells at the boys for being late and then makes them run laps lags a little. I think it's too much interruption of the tension.

    Here's another instance where my knowledge of sports is lacking: I don't understand why the coach makes Josh catch when he's a pitcher. Don't players have "their" position? I thought coaches wanted players to get picked by scouts because of the prestige, so isn't the coach sabotaging himself by sabotaging Josh? Confused.

    This is a good revision though!

  5. Dear Virginia,

    Thank you for sharing these pages. I'm happy to be able to give you an agent's perspective on your opening.

    First of all, we are always struggling to find the perfect titles around here. RISE UP is a good one! It's short and it's memorable. I'm not yet sure how it ties in to the plot, but that's ok - combined with a great jacket, it's intriguing.

    You are probably aware that it can be tough to market a YA with a boy main character. I like Josh right away, though - he's tender-hearted, he's in a delicate place with the recent death of his mom and his dad's drinking. I do hope that Ginette, who is only introduced here - will play a major part. I'm not sure yet why she's hanging around - waiting for Connor? - but she could be interesting. It makes me wonder if you're introducing a love triangle.

    Thank you for your very smart way of showing us the setting. Knowing that the Washington Monument is THIS far away is a perfect frame of reference.

    Picky things. I'm not sure a 17-yr-old boy would say "to boot", and Josh uses this phrase twice in the opening paragraphs. Also, please watch out for comma usage. You could use them more often. My reading was tripped up in certain places.

    My biggest concern with this opening is the pacing. I want the plot to get going much more quickly. I'm not sure what's happening yet, except that Josh is a procrastinator. I feel a bit as Coach must feel - I want him to get to the action! YA readers will put down a book quickly if they aren't immediately drawn in, so I would concentrate on getting us hooked right away.

    Good luck!

  6. Hi Virginia,

    I like how this is moving along.

    I look more like the - (I would change this to a instead of the) friggen (though I think you don’t need friggen) Chinese cat.

    I agree that to boot takes us away from Josh’s voice. You could say, and be on some killer steroids or something like that. In keeping with his voice. And the other to boot can be omitted as well.

    This’s – change to this is. It doesn’t read well otherwise.

    I like that Gin comes in to the scene at a weak moment for Josh. I like her immediately.

    We stop and look at him like he’s asked us what the circumference of the moon is. – I like this a lot.

    I’d like to read more about Gin and Josh, and Con of course, which is good. I’m already invested and would like to see where this all is heading.

    I think you’ve done great with the revisions, good luck with your story.


  7. Hi Virginia,

    You already have so many wonderful comments, I won't repeat what they offer. I do want to say that I definitely see a lot of work in this revision. I'm more into the scene and understand more about Josh. I do feel like you could show us a little more of him here, maybe through action. This would quicken the page and make the pages turn more rapidly.

    Best of luck!


  8. Better and better each week! Great job revising. Your MC went from jerky to likable with faults so BRAVO! I agree with a couple of the comments above. I think the opening probably starts a few paragraphs in or with a far shorter intro. I also think you have too many exclamation points. :D Let your writing indicate how the reader reads it. I love how you changed the interaction with the girl to Josh not Con. Much better! But can it be Josh who gets sent away or almost sent away? Then it's more immediate to him. Cut wherever you can. Make sure every sentence is important to moving the story forward and/or developing the character. The opening is so hard! But you're doing great!