Sunday, January 18, 2015

First 5 Pages January Workshop - Pierson Rev 2

Name: Kim Pierson
Genre: New Adult Contemporary
Title: Skipping, Jumping, Leaping

My therapist says I’m not actually a head case. She says grief just fucks a person up. Sometimes for years. Maybe even your whole high school career.

It was good to hear. Until I met Danny, no one else really gave a shit about my grief.

Because that’s how it works when you’re fourteen and your sister gets high and crashes her car into a family of four on their way home from the movies. When that happens, no one cares that your sister is dead. No one cares that you miss her every single day. All their caring is saved for the people in the other car: the dead parents, the fifth-grader who will never start middle school. And for the only surviver, now confined to a wheelchair after countless life-saving surgeries. She and I started our freshman year together, her chair one more reminder that there was no going back to the way things used to be.

My parents wouldn’t let me transfer schools. They said I had nothing to be ashamed of.

The girls at my high school, the ones who fanned out to form a protective shield around the girl’s wheelchair every single time I came by, didn’t see it quite the same way. You know how the Bible says the sins of the father shall be visited on the sons? For high schoolers, the same principle works with sisters. The guys weren’t so bad. When you’re built like a Victoria’s Secret model, guys tend to be pretty friendly, no matter what tragedy indelibly stains your reputation. But the girls? From the day of the crash until the day I left town, the girls were all dirty looks and nasty whispers. 

Like I was the one responsible for the only mistake my sister ever made.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the girls at my high school would have voted me Ms. Congeniality if Cathy hadn’t run that stop sign. Not the way their boyfriends looked at me. And besides, I didn’t really know how to talk to girls. Other than Cathy, that is. Talking to Cathy had been easy like Sunday morning.

Still, life is all about second chances, and tonight was mine. Fifteen hours from Louisville, where no one had ever heard of me, or Cathy, I was finally going to make some friends.

I basked for a moment in the flashing lights of the BU rec center, surrounded by girls who were treating me like just another overly-pretty freshman. That’s when I felt the guy’s eyes on me. Don’t look up, I told myself. 

But I did. It was like taking a really stupid dare. I knew that nothing good could come of it, and still I couldn’t resist. I’m not sure if that makes me crazy or just stupid.

His eyes were waiting for mine. He stood up as soon as we made eye contact, taking it as an invitation, or a challenge, maybe. He started walking over, his lanky frame temporarily eclipsing part of the limp “Welcome Future Class of 1999” banner that hung across the rec center wall. Then he paused a minute to pull out a flask and take a not-so-discrete gulp. One of his buddies slapped him a high five.

I was sitting in an oversized booth, all the way up against the wall. The crowd of girls I'd just met formed a barrier between me and any guy who might be tempted to approach. It was a technique that had worked before. Not today, though. Didn’t even slow this guy down.

“Evenin’, ladies,” he said, his voice a faux drawl.

“Hey there,” the girl sitting next to me said, looking him up and down. 

Maybe, just maybe, he was going to hit on someone else. 

“My friend over there—” he began, grinning over his shoulder at the group of guys behind him. One of them flashed him a double thumbs-up. “He bet me twenty bucks that isn’t your real hair color.”

Even if Future Frat Boy hadn’t been looking right at me, the hair reference had to make it clear to everyone at the table who he was talking to. The girl who’d said hi to him rolled her eyes. I couldn’t even judge. If I had been watching this unfold, I’d roll my eyes, too.

“Tell your friend he owes you some money." I raised my eyebrows at the girls around the table. “Like anyone would choose this color,” I said, in what I hoped was a self-deprecating tone. I was trying to save the evening — which meant getting rid of this guy as quickly as possible. Tonight was supposed to be about making friends. Girl friends.

It was too late, though. The girl who had rolled her eyes pushed her way out of the booth. “I want to dance,” she said. “Maybe you want my seat?” she offered the guy. Most of the other girls stood up too. 

Of course they did. It was high school all over again.

“Oh, yeah, great, thanks,” he stammered, nervous now that he had made it through his script. He tripped over the exiting girls in his haste to slide into the booth.

“I’m Jason,” he said, to no one and everyone, although his eyes were on me.

The two girls who hadn’t deserted me for the dance floor introduced themselves. They'd told me their names before, back when I'd first come in, but there had been too many people for them to register. The names actually slipped past me this time, too. I was distracted. And to be honest, I wasn't really used to paying attention to the names of other girls. My therapist would say that the past four years have given me trust issues.

I went last. “Ping,” I said.

“Excuse me?”

“My name. It’s Ping.”

“Ping. Really? You wouldn’t be bullshitting me, would you? Isn’t that the sound a radar makes when another sub is getting too close or something? Ping, ping.” His hands mimicked explosions with each “ping.”  

It was way too early in the evening for this. And besides, that was sonar. 

“Yes.” I cut him off in a voice that was as cold as I could muster. So cold that if I’d been speaking in comic strip bubbles, he’d have been able to see the word dripping icicles. “It’s short for Penelope Ann.”

“And how the heck is ‘Ping’ short for ‘Penelope Ann’?” the guy scoffed.

How indeed? Maybe he wasn’t as drunk as he seemed.

“It just is.” I tried to keep my voice neutral. “No cute backstory. It’s just what they call me.”

“How ‘bout you give me your number so I can call you?” he suggested, winking broadly.

Could I have given him a better opening? Really? I’d been dealing with guys like this ever since I turned twelve and got boobs and I couldn’t do better than that?

“Sorry,” I said with a small smile. “Hey, I think—” I paused a second here, unable to remember Eye-Roller’s name, before just saying the first name that came to me “—Karen wants me to come dance.” I pushed my way past him. “Have a good evening, Jason.”

“You, too, Penny,” he replied. “Hey, Penny!” His voice grew louder as I reached back to grab my purse before walking away from the booth. “Now there’s a name that suits you! You’ve got hair the color of a penny!” He was shouting by the time I reached the dance floor.


  1. Wow! This version is very different and it really gets to the heart of your story much faster. Great job! It definitely makes Ping more sympathetic to know that her sister died very young, and that she got shit for her sister’s accident all through high school. It turns her lack of relationships with girls from making her seem annoyingly focused on guys, to totally understandable.


    Is Danny the therapist? It seems like it, but wouldn’t a patient, especially a young one, call a Dr. Dr. ___? It would make it clearer that he was the doctor.

    “Not with the way their boyfriends…” I think you’re missing a word.

    In “Talking to Cathy had been easy like Sunday morning.” I don’t get how Sunday morning is easy. Relaxed, maybe?

    You tie the new stuff in with the old beginning of the story nicely.

    Great job! Good luck with the manuscript!

    1. Thanks so much, Rebecca! I was worried about the Danny part. He's actually Ping's boyfriend, who gets discussed later in the chapter. I just didn't want the reader think that HE didn't care about her grief.

      Maybe I'll replace those two sentences with:

      Back then, no one else really gave a shit about my grief.


      I was dating myself with the "easy like Sunday morning" line -- it was a reference to that old Commodores song. If it seems awkward, I can cut it. It might not work for my intended audience, anyway!

      Thanks to everyone for all the thoughtful comments throughout this workshop! You really pushed me to make some much-needed edits.

      Good luck!

    2. Oh, glad it helped. You know, you might just refer to Danny as "my boyfriend" here, which says it all without bogging your start down with lots of unnecessary words. I find it very interesting that she has a boyfriend...another good reason she's not too into getting hit on. Knowing that she has a boyfriend right there, up front, would definitely cast Ping in a different light.

      Oh, I've heard that song but it didn't occur to me at all. Hmmm. If this is aimed at an NA reader, I think you're right, most of them won't get it.

      This workshop has been great!


  2. Great suggestion! Thank you, Rebecca. Everyone who hasn't read this yet, please read "my boyfriend" instead of "Danny"!


  3. Hi Kim,

    I really love your new first line! It's funny and evocative. I agree about the Danny thing, and reading it with the replacement "boyfriend" makes it much smoother.

    I really "get" Ping much better now, particularly her suspicion and hesitation about the girls around the table in the previous versions. The background makes much more sense. I, too, didn't get the Commodores line until you mentioned it in the comments. I know the song, but I would not have made that connection while reading!

    I really like her hopeful statement of "I was finally going to make some friends." It gives Ping more vulnerability relate-ability. The transition between the new opening section and the "old" opening inside the bar area is a little abrupt. Ping is in the booth with the guy staring at her as she's surrounded by girls, but I think there could be one or two sentences about how she chose where to sit or whether she was hesitant or excited to approach them.

    Overall, this is lot stronger.

  4. Dear Kim,

    Thank you for sharing these pages!

    I just want to say right away that I don’t specialize in New Adult, but I’ll do my best here.

    SKIPPING, JUMPING, LEAPING sounds to me like a picture book title. For NA, you’ll definitely need something juicier/spicier.

    I love your first line! It’s kind of funny, and definitely draws the reader in. The whole first paragraph is great. Then, I kept waiting to meet this Danny - does that come later? Confused. Is Danny the therapist?

    Ok, now here is where my bias toward YA comes in. I’ll just say it - do you really need this to be New Adult? Because for me, from the agent’s perspective, I really love the first half of this opening. It slows way down once she gets to BU. Here’s why:

    — The set-up in high school is super-interesting! Yes, wow, we see that sympathy would go toward the remaining family member. But our main character - the sister, stuck in that school, that is tough. How does she cope with that baggage? The sins of the father? Intriguing.

    — It’s also really unique that she is gorgeous, and she has no idea how to have female friends.

    All of this is a fresh character that I haven’t yet met in all the YA I see. So that’s my two cents on that. I’ll get off the podium now.

    Picky: “easy like Sunday morning” is dated.

    Future class of 1999? Why date it? Why not make it contemporary?

    This is fun flirtation, and I know this is all New Adult now. I still feel much more compelled by the beginning. I don’t know what happens in your plot, but you might consider keeping it in high school if possible.

    Good luck!

  5. Hi Kim,

    I get into the story right away with this version. I like this much better.

    I agree with Tracey that this is a very good story for YA that hasn’t been in anything I’ve read. That said. Either way it’s a good story and like I was told years ago, write what you know.

    The transition didn’t interrupt my attention at all. I was hooked from the beginning paragraphs and if the manuscript is this smooth throughout I’d say that it would definitely fall into the read all night category.

    Great revisions so far, you really connected with what a reader wanted to know and caught me at the first sentence.

    I enjoyed this and would definitely want to read more.


  6. WOW. Now that's what I'm talking about with revision! It's like she's a whole different character and I see the scene unfold completely differently. Nice. Now I'm going to side with Tracey. Why NA? Maybe there's a good reason. Or maybe you're worried about some edgy material? Some YA can be edgy too. That new opening really drew me in... However you go with it, great job!