Sunday, January 11, 2015

First 5 Pages January Workshop - Smith-Allen Rev 1

Name:  Rebecca Smith-Allen
Genre: Upper Middle Grade Mystery
Title:    All Out

Chapter 1: Designing Apps  (Jared)
You wouldn't call me gifted unless awesome video game skill counted. According to Mom, it didn't. But here I was on a bus headed to a camp for math and science nerds. Go figure.

The camp was run by Hartland Mountain Science Academy, a private school for smart kids. I didn't go here. Even my teacher's-pet little sister, Maxine, didn't go here. This school cost money, but anyone could sign up for camp.

Hartland was not my top pick for summer camp. That would be Boy Scout Camp-building campfires, toasting s'mores, and shooting BB guns. Searching under rocks for newts and lizards. Boy Scout camp should last all summer, not just a week. Since my sister couldn't go, she'd gotten it in her head to sign up for Hartland's Geocaching program, "treasure hunting" through the forest with a hand-held GPS. Only a freak like my sister could think that sounded fun.

Aaron, my best friend and gaming bud, had looked over her shoulder at the Hartland catalog and found a program on Designing Apps. Designing apps sounded good, even if lizards and fires weren't involved. Even if I had risk a camp full of Maxines to take it. Everyone else here might be a math or science geek, but I could hold my own in gaming.

I stomped off the bus following Maxine and Aaron. My head was pounding from the twenty-minute ride up the windy mountain road during which I'd had to share my best friend with my sister. I wasn't looking forward to school next month, but at least when Aaron and I got on the junior high bus, I could leave Max in the dust, waiting for the middle school bus.

My sister headed toward a friend who'd signed up for camp with her. I turned in the opposite direction toward a couple guys my age. I didn't know them, but getting away from Max was the only push I needed to make new friends.

My eyes darted to the right. Aaron had followed me, not my sister.


I eyed the chunky, red-headed guy I was headed toward. What do geniuses talk about? Do they watch Phineas and Ferb? Or only Discovery Channel shows? Do they play Minecraft? Or just chess? Do they have major problems in their lives, their little sister liking their best friend? Or would a genius find some colorless, odorless, tasteless poison to take out his sister?

"Hey," I said, taking in the guy's camouflage T-shirt and rust-colored cargo shorts.

"Hi, I'm Conlan," he said with a smile.

I was tempted to tell him his loud pants kinda defeated the purpose of the camo shirt. Maybe he liked his clothes to match his equally bright hair. Weird. But maybe that wasn't the best way to introduce myself.

"Jared," I said. "This is Aaron."

"This is Tariq." Conlan gestured at the short, skinny, dark-haired, dark-skinned guy next to him.

"Hey," Tariq said.

I dragged my eyes off Conlan's odd clothes to look at his friend. His T-shirt read, "Come to the nerd side. We've got π." What was that about? Hanging out with nerds for a week was gonna be harder than I thought. I considered retreat.

"Have you guys been to this camp before?" Aaron asked.

"Yeah," Conlan answered. "We go to school here too."

Ok, so I'd stumbled into guys who weren't just willing to get categorized as nerds for a week. They were actual, legitimate, full-time geniuses. Wow.

I considered retreat more seriously.

"Which program-" I started to ask.

"Designing Apps," Conlan answered before I even got the question out. "You?"

"Same," I said.

"Cool." Conlan smiled again. He had a huge, cheery smile that took up half of his face. "So did you hear Brent Kagon is in our program? That's why I signed up."

"No way." My jaw dropped. My eyes bugged out. He couldn't be serious, could he?


It didn't seem possible, but Conlan's smile grew broader. Tariq smiled and nodded as well. They weren't joking.

Who hadn't heard of Brent Kagon? He was the local golden child. The guy'd created this game app that like a zillion people downloaded. 

Ok. I'd played it for a week. It wasn't that good. But it'd been designed by a kid - a kid who'd made enough money to take his parents to Disney World. I'd read all about it. Brent Kagon was my idol, the reason I was at this camp. I figured if he could do it, I could too. I wanted to be Brent Kagon. I had a great idea for an app. And I had visions of raking in the bucks, buying every game system known to man, getting the Lego Death Star, paying someone to do my science homework. I'd take my parents to Disney for vacation. Aaron would come too, of course. My sister could stay home.

How could Brent Kagon be taking a class like this? Didn't he already know everything?

"I took Designing Apps last summer," Conlan said, "but when Mom complained about paying for the program again I said, 'Kagon's taking it.' And she was like, 'Really? Then there must be more to learn. Ask him for pointers.'"

Our discussion stopped when a shiny black car rolled up next to us. It was the only car that pulled into camp 'cause the rest of us had taken a bus to the top of the mountain.

The car stopped and a guy wearing dark, mirrored rock-star sunglasses got out of the passenger seat. He was a couple years older than me with messy black hair sticking out in every direction. He wore faded black jeans even though it was hot and everyone else wore shorts. His face was set in a scowl. And he had the thinnest, most beautiful MacBook I'd ever seen tucked protectively under his arm.

Conlan elbowed me. I grimaced but he didn't notice 'cause he hadn't taken his eyes off the guy.

"That's him," he whispered. "Brent Kagon."

The rock-star shades and MacBook caught the attention of a bunch of campers. I stared too. I didn't want to act like a some pathetic fan, but I couldn't help it. There was something about him. I wanted his autograph. I wanted to peek into his brain and find out how he came up with such a great idea for an app. I wanted his programming secrets.

But there was something annoying about him as well. It was the first day of camp, a bright, sunny summer day. Why was he scowling? His black T-shirt read "Watch and Learn," in gray, 3D letters. A little full of yourself? And he knew we were standing here, staring at him. Even my sister came over and whispered something in Aaron's ear. But Brent ignored us all. With a nod towards the car, he turned and walked past us and into the building.


  1. Good job with the changes. I like your MC's voice. One thing very important: Kids are in either middle school or Jr. High not both. So his sister might be in elementary school in fifth or sixth while he and his friend are at Jr. High in Seventh or whatever. Make sense?

    The pants thing still bothers me. If you make a big deal out of everyone wearing shorts except Kagen, then the red headed boy has to wear shorts too. Just sayin'. ;) And if I'm picking on small things, that's good because I'm not finding too many issues otherwise, right?

    Just a thought. Maybe you could make the stakes a bit higher for him by making this be a big deal for his parents to afford and he's planning on using all the money he'll make to pay them back or something? IDK. Just a thought to make him a little more sympathetic of a hero. Can't wait to see next week!

  2. Lisa,
    Thanks for your comments! I was thrown by the "pants" comment b/c I thought I'd gotten that one.DOH! I had pants twice and only changed one! I've got it now.

    I have to say I didn't really get the middle school, jr. high comment. My town has an elementary school (k-4), an upper elementary (5-6), and a middle school (7-8). That caused confusion b/c an informal poll of people I chatted with when the problem came up said most towns have a middle school (5-6) and a jr. high (7-8), so I changed the way I thought about the schools. The sentence is really not at all precious to me I was just trying to say that Max is going into 6th and the boys are going into 7th and they'll be in different schools for a year in a more interesting way. Are you saying I can't have a separate middle school and jr. high?

    Thanks again for the help. If this school thing is confusing, I definitely want to change it. It's not that important to the story.


    1. Sorry so late, Rebecca. I'll talk to you again next week, but I can tell you I'm from MI and now CA and in neither place has both a middle school and Junior High. In my personal experience it's either Elementary K-5 and middle school 6-8 OR elementary K-6 and Jr. High 7-8. Hope that helps.

  3. Hi Rebecca ,

    I agree with Lisa that there isn’t much in the way of this being a great story. I echo what Lisa said above and the only thing I can add is one line that might need to be cleared up:
    Brent Kagon was my idol, the reason I was at this camp.

    This confused me a bit, since he seemed surprised when the other boys mentioned that Brent was coming to the camp as well. Like he didn’t already know. But the line you have there implies he did previously know. Just a small change.

    I like this story. Great work! - Shannon

  4. Hi Rebecca!

    I’m taking over for Kimberly who can’t mentor this month. I really like this set up – it is fresh and interesting. I love the idea of a rich famous gamer being at their camp! And he is so rock-star like and aloof, which is very intriguing. Since this is a mystery, I wonder – can you amp that up in these pages?

    I am also wondering about your mc – he wants to go to Boy Scout camp. So is he a nature guy who also loves gaming? If so, I think you can make more of that. That’s interesting in and of itself.

    Regarding the entire middle grade jr. high issue ( I also thought it was either/or. Growing up we had middle school – grade 6-8, the town I now live in has jr. high – 7-8) just end it at leaving Maxi in the dust. No need to explain further!

    I’d like a bit more descriptions. I can’t picture the school, or your mc, his friend or sister. Only Conlan and Brent are described. Let us imagine this school, this camp, these kids.

    I can’t wait to read next week – good luck with the revisions!

  5. Hi Rebecca!

    A weird, nitpicky thing to the "According to Mom" line, I think it should be "it doesn't" rather than "it didn't" because of the present tense in the previous line.

    I would also leave out the "go figure" since it basically shrugs off an explanation for why he's on the bus, but the next paragraph DOES explain.

    In that paragraph, there are some mixed verb tenses to watch out for (see? nitpicky).

    I also agree with the comments that you can leave "Max in the dust" without the middle school bus phrase. In my area, there is just middle school which is grades 7 and 8. There isn't a typical split in the elementary schools, although that does exist, but they're both called "elementary" still. Maybe stay vague enough that all regions can understand? Such a funny thing to steal the flow of your story ;-)

    From the paragraph beginning with "Ok. I'd played it for a week..." I thought you really hit your stride and found a very consistent voice! That whole section just flowed and gave us a glimpse into Jared's head, and better introduced Brent. I think it's much better this time.

  6. Hello Rebecca –

    Nice progress toward finding Jared’s voice. Lots of fun giggles:
    -lizard and fire
    -camp full of Maxines
    -Paragraph about what geniuses talk about
    -my sister could stay home

    I have some of the same questions and issues as I did with the first revision so I won’t repeat here.

    Your use of “nerd” is a bit confusing to me. Aren’t gamers considered “nerds?” You assign it to the science and math kids and not Jared.

    Wouldn’t a “gamer” think that geocaching is fun?

    I feel that I need a better grasp of what Jared’s “quest” is in these early pages. What does he want? Why do we want to go on the journey with him?

    I do think you have gold here in Kagon. I’d like to see him tied up in Jared’s “quest” from the get go.

    Looking forward to the next installment. Happy writing.

  7. Hi Rebecca,

    I think this looks great. I love your additions like "teacher's-pet little sister." I'd like to see the line before that read "I DON'T go" and that line read "Maxine DOESN'T go," but that's minor. Also the "s" on "costs".

    The sentence about the school costing money makes me wonder if the camp's expensive. Not that I think you should interrupt the flow by putting that discussion in there now! But I did wonder. The way it's worded, it almost sounds like the camp's free.

    Instead of calling his sister a freak, maybe a "nerd"?

    Love the "camp full of Maxines," and that he feels confident in his gaming abilities.

    I agree on not using both middle school and junior high, and also agree with the suggestion of ending the sentence after "dust". Otherwise something like "waiting with her sixth-grade friends for the upper elementary school bus." ??

    I continue to love so much that hasn't changed from the first submission -- I'm not going to go into all those now -- but I did enjoy it all just as much this time!

    The "I was tempted" paragraph -- maybe change the second "maybe" to "But that probably wasn't".

    The "Ok" paragraph -- maybe something like "Brent Kagon was my idol -- the idea of being the next him was the reason I had given in to Aaron's suggestion that we come here." ??

    That's not much. I really like this! Good luck!


  8. Dear Rebecca, Congrats on a good revision. You have done a good job of letting the reader see what makes your MC tick right from the beginning. That having been said, I would still like to see your MC's main conflict will be right from the beginning as well. I wonder if you could get rid of the first four paragraphs of your story and start just as your MC's stomps off the bus and arrives at camp. You can weave in to the story through inner dialogue some of the information in the first four paragraphs if necessary. Someone else mentioned that they really like Brent Kagon and I do as well. Which leads me to: why not introduce him earlier in the story? Show us right away the conflict between your MC and Kagon. And I'd like to suggest that you consider reading the first chapter of Meg Wolitzer's The Interestings. Although not a YA book, it is a story about a young high school girl who through a scholarship ends up going to a camp for wealthy young teenagers. In that first paragraph Wolitzer does a fabulous job of getting the reader right into the heart of the story and showing us a flawed character and both her inner and outer conflict. Anyway, good job on the revisions. Virginia