Sunday, January 18, 2015

First 5 Pages January Workshop - Smith-Allen Rev 2

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 doesn't. But here I was on a bus headed to a camp for math and science nerds.

The camp was run by Hartland Mountain Science Academy, a private school for smart kids. I don't go here. Even my teacher's-pet little sister, Maxine, doesn't go here. This school costs money, but Mom's reaction to the price of camp was a sigh, not a heart attack.

Geek camp was not my top-pick summer activity; that would be Boy Scout Camp. Building campfires, toasting s'mores, and shooting BB guns-so many things Mom never let me do with just one downside, the latrines. You gotta get good at holding your breath and going fast. Boy Scout camp should last all summer, not just a week.

My sister couldn't to Boy Scout Camp, obviously, so 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 dork 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 the program on Designing Apps. Designing apps sounded good, even if target shooting 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.

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 those loud shorts kinda defeated the purpose of the camo shirt. Maybe he liked his clothes to match his equally bright hair. Weird. But that probably 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 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 geeks 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, and almost as many freckles as me. "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 who'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, my inspiration for spending a week of summer vacation in a computer classroom instead of on the couch playing Wii. 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 it 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 got cut off 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 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 to the driver, he turned and walked past us and into the building.


  1. Hi Rebecca,

    No big surprise that I continue to love this! Your voice is great. I really like the "sigh, not a heart attack" line you added.

    I have very few suggestions. This is very polished and ready! Paragraph 3 still seemed a little awkward in parts, though. I'd use an em dash instead of the semi-colon in the first line. And the second sentence seemed long. Maybe end it with "Mom never let me do." Then pick it up with "There was just one". Also, maybe a transition sentence between the unappealing (but very funny!) latrine talk and how the camp should last all summer? It didn't follow as well with the addition, I thought. Something like "But that was a small price to pay for the rest of the fun. Boy Scout camp should last all summer, not just a week."

    Paragraph 4: it might be funny to have a sentence on how Maxine actually tried to get into Boy Scout camp, but his mom (and the Boy Scouts) put her foot down. It seems like the kind of audacious thing Maxine would think she could get away with!

    Because you have "even if target shooting" in paragraph 5, I might add an "And" to start the next sentence: "And even if I had [add a "to"] risk [or "put up with"?] a camp full of Maxines to take it."

    So picky, but maybe replace "I could" in the last sentence of paragraph 6 with "I'd be able to".

    That's it. I think this reads beautifully, and that it really picks up steam as you get into it. I love the freckles comment (not sure if that's new, or I missed it), and your descriptions of all the kids -- but especially Brent Kagon!

    Best of luck!

  2. Hi Rebecca,

    I continue to enjoy your voice, sense of fun, and premise of your story. I'm definitely curious as to what’s going to unfold at camp with the pieces you’ve put into play.
    Congratulations on the progress you’ve made through your revisions.

    Your first several pages are filled with lots of information. You might consider giving us just the teases we need and then feathering in the rest as the story goes along. Maybe you could play with starting at a more active place, possibly closer to the moment when Kagon comes into the picture.

    I would love to have a few more breadcrumbs as to what the MC’s “quest” will be and his stakes. I’m drawn to him as a character, but want to know a bit more about what I’m rooting for.

    Wishing you all the best on your travels through this story. Thank you for sharing your work.


  3. I am enjoying these pages more and more! You have the middle grade voice down - no easy feat! Just a few thoughts:

    I wonder if you can cut the boyscout camp reference, and move us into the story quicker. Jared isn't some nature kid who is forced into gaming camp - so why not just say he begged to go and his stupid tag along sister wanted to come?

    Also, you describe these nerdy gaming kids in detail - but I have no sense of Jared. Could he think - I really don't belong here, I'm so ordinary or some such? And I like the school at the top of the mountain - but I'd love just a line or two telling me what I should be envisioning - a castle? a modern series of a cubes? ivy covered brick?

    I would love to get to our intriguing super star earlier - and see more details of why this is a mystery - is he surrounded by security guards or something? What are the stakes of the story?

    I am already hooked - so overall great job and good luck!

  4. Hi Rebecca!

    I agree with the comments so far that some things could be clarified in the first several paragraphs. There's something still bugging me about the "According to Mom...But here I was" transition. I think it might be that I'm not feeling that much on Jared's part about the camp. It's obviously a second choice since he wants to go to Boy Scout Camp, but then I'd think he'd be very resentful. Maybe Maxine had already been signed up and the mom decided to send Jared too? Or he wasn't excited until he saw the game class and was then REALLY excited? I want to feel more from him.

    Mostly picky things everywhere else! Like the middle section where the other boys are introduced. It feels just slightly slow tension-wise.

    I love Brent's intro this time.

    Maybe have Maxine say something about how she "won" the camp battle?

    I don't really have much else to suggest!

  5. Hi Rebecca,

    There are some tense changes in the first paragraphs. Pat and present mixed together.

    There is a lot of info in the pages. I think Leslie hit that point about starting somewhere where we get a sense of the mystery unraveling right away.

    I’m confused about Jared being surprised about Bret being at camp and then later in the story saying he came to camp because of Brent. Maybe clarify this earlier on. - Brent Kagon was my idol, my inspiration for spending a week of summer vacation in a computer classroom instead of on the couch playing Wii.- In the first paragraphs we don’t get this from Jared. I had the impression that he had no other choice to go and the only upside was an app program.

    The voice of the MC is spot on I think. I relate to him from the get go.

    Other than those minor things I think it’s well written.

    Great work, good luck with your story.


  6. Dear Rebecca,

    Thank you for sharing these pages!

    As an agent, I’m glad to see “Middle Grade Mystery” as the genre. You don’t need the “Upper” part. Editors are so eager for middle-grade, and this is an audience that loves mystery. ALL OUT is a bit vague as a title. I’d suggest something unforgettable. Something like GEEK CAMP comes to mind.

    Great first paragraph! I’d put “gifted” in quotes in the first line. Love your opening.

    Watch for places where you can add commas, please. (“I stomped off the bus, following Maxine and Aaron.”) (“from the winding mountain road, during which…”)

    I love that the little sister’s nickname is Max. Great detail. Your sense of humor is wonderful here, especially regarding the geek/nerd stuff and the sibling relationship. This is a solid start for a middle-grade. I hope a big mystery starts soon!

    Good luck!

  7. Same fun story! I do enjoy your voice, which is the majority of the battle for MG I think. :D I agree with some of the comments above, that I'd like to see more hints of the actual mystery to come. Something odd to throw in and catch our attention even more would be great. Just be sure to keep that voice!