Sunday, January 4, 2015

First 5 Pages January Workshop - Smith-Allen

Name:  Rebecca Smith-Allen
Genre: Upper Middle Grade Mystery
Title:    All Out
Chapter 1: Designing Apps  (Jared)

You wouldn't actually call me gifted unless awesome video game skill counted.  According to Mom, it doesn't.  But 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 didn't go to school here.  Neither did the smarty-pants of my family, my little sister, Maxine, who once threw a fit 'cause she'd only gotten a 92 on a test (I would've been thanking my lucky stars).  Going to school here cost money, as opposed to Thompson Middle School, which was free.  But anyone could sign up for camp. 
Boy Scout Camp was my idea of the perfect summer 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.  And Max couldn't go, obviously.  So she'd gotten it in her head to do this camp's Geocaching program, "treasure hunting" through the forest with a hand-held GPS.  Only my nutty sister could think that sounded fun. 
Aaron, my best friend and gaming bud, had looked over her shoulder at the camp catalog and found a program on Designing Apps.  Designing apps sounded good, even if lizards and fires weren't involved.  Even if I had to hang out with "gifted and talented" kids 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 Max and Aaron.  My head was ready to explode from the twenty minute ride up the windy mountain road during which I had to share my best friend with my little sister. 
Max got off first and headed toward a friend who'd signed up for camp with her.  I headed the opposite direction toward a couple guys my age.  I didn't know them, but getting away from Max was all the incentive I needed to make new friends. 
My eyes darted to the right.  Aaron had followed me, not my sister. 
I was about to get my first experience meeting geniuses.  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, like their little sister dating their best friend?  Or would a genius find some colorless, odorless, tasteless poison to take out his sister?
"Hey," I said to a chunky, red-headed guy wearing a camouflage T-shirt and rust-colored pants. 
"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 I decided that fashion advice 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 one 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.  He'd created this game app that like a zillion people downloaded and played. 
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 do it.  I know as much about gaming as anybody and more than like 99.9 percent of the population. 
I wanted to be Brent Kagon.  I had a great idea for an app too.  And I had visions of myself with a zillion dollars, 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.  Max 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 a second time 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 sleek black car with tinted windows 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 black car stopped and a man in a black suit and cap got out of the drivers' seat and opened the back door.  Was there a movie star signed up for camp too, on top of a famous app designer?  A guy got out, one just a couple years older than me.  He was no movie star.  He had 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."
Campers gathered to see who was getting out of the fancy car so I had to balance on tiptoes and crane my neck to see him.  I felt like a groupie, staring, 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 to know 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 here, that he was surrounded by people staring at him.  Even Max squeezed through the crowd and whispered something in Aaron's ear.  But Brent ignored us all.  He pulled a pair of dark sunglasses from the collar of his T-shirt, put them on, nodded to his driver, and walked past us and into the building.


  1. Hi Rebecca 

    I like the beginning, you tell us what he MC likes and doesn’t like. And sets his mood. Doing this in 3 sentences is great.

    Watch the tense, there are some past and present changes in the story that should be changed to one or the other. I am guilty of doing this…

    Good story, im not sure of the stakes here, though I would imagine that Jared has a key role in finding out why Brent Kagon is so moody.

    I think maybe you should add something interesting in the beginning. A hint of something that makes Jared shine or paints him in an unusual light. Though ,I don’t have a lot of knowledge in this genre. I do like the writing.

    Hope this was helpful to you.

  2. Hi!! First of all, best sentence: "Or would a genius find some colorless, odorless, tasteless poison to take out his sister?" Had to get that out. You have some wonderful lines in there like that, showing some awesome voice and humor! That said, there were also some spots that need a little more work on the voice. Would a current kid use terms like, "Smarty pants" and "Nutty" for example? Voice is tricky business! Especially in MG. How old is your MC? I was thrown when you mentioned his little sister was dating his best friend. They're kind of young for that.
    I had to smile at your premise since I have a son (though older) who is on the road to being a great game designer but doesn't do homework in his other classes. DOH. Be careful though because a lot of kids take game design thinking they're big gamers and they'll do well, but then they realize it's really all programming and are disillusioned. Maybe show us that he's aware of that?
    There are a few disconnects. I could've sworn for instance you described rust colored pants and then commented on how everyone was wearing shorts. Another example? Brent made enough to take his family to disneyland, but if that was a big deal for him, how could they afford a limo? Made me wonder. Small things like that will pull the reader out.
    Great start to what sounds like a fun story with a topic that will appeal to MG boys! Can't wait to see the revision.

    1. Lisa,

      Thanks for the very specific comments. I'm working them!

      Your son sounds to much like mine...can throw himself into the projects that interest him, and does the minimum in the rest. How to convince them that grades are important?

      Thanks for the feedback on programming. My son actually really liked his programming class, but he was working in stagecast, a software package for visual programming. He's going to have a few weeks in a different programming language soon. I'm make sure I ask lots of questions!

      And I'll try downgrading "dating" to "likes." You're right, there is a difference between MG and YA relationships, and this is definitely an MG one.

      Thanks again!

  3. Hi Rebecca, Your pages made me laugh, and that's a good thing. I think you have created an interesting yet quirky MC who has a unique voice. Good! I agree with the mention that the MC's sister is dating the MC's best friend. I can't seem to figure out how old these guys are. Also, if going to Boy Scout camp is your MC"s idea of a perfect summer camp, why is he going to a camp for science and math nerds? Perhaps the reader needs to know earlier in your pages that this guy Kagan is his idol and he wants to be just like him and that is why he chooses to go to the science camp. I don't get why your MC is going to this camp? I thought your dialogue between the boys at camp was pretty much spot on, except for a few places that someone else also mentioned. Good work, Virginia

  4. Hi Rebecca,

    I really enjoyed your opening pages. The story stuck with me, and I found myself thinking about it later in the day. I think you have some great ideas, and an excellent middle grade male voice!

    As far as specifics go, for whatever reason, opening with "You wouldn't" stopped me a little. Not really sure why and it doesn't seem to have slowed anyone else down, so maybe it was just me. But I was wondering if you could do something like:

    "No one who knew me would have ever called me gifted. I mean, not unless they were counting my awesome video game skills -- which my mom, at least, does not. At yet here I was, on a bus headed to a summer camp for math and science nerds. Go figure."

    Maxine: I'd stick to calling her Maxine, at least in the beginning, except maybe in dialogue. I found the switch to Max confusing. And I don't know that we need the part about her throwing a fit about the 92%. I thought it slowed it down a little. Maybe replace sentences 2 & 3 of the second paragraph with something like "It was a school not even my smarty-pants [or whatever you end up using] little sister, Maxine, went to. See, going to school there cost money [. . .]"

    Maybe start the third paragraph with a reference to the school first to make it flow more smoothly? ("Hartland was not exactly my idea of the perfect summer camp. That would be Boy Scout Camp -- building campfires, toasting s'mores, and shooting BB guns. Searching under rocks for newts and lizards. But Boy Scout Camp only lasted a week, not all summer. And Maxine couldn't [. . . ]")

    I love Jared’s whole uncertainty about whether Aaron's loyalties lie with him or Maxine, and his satisfaction when Aaron sticks with him. I didn't think about the age thing initially, but agree with everyone else that for middle grade the "liking" probably works better than an actual relationship.

    I really liked the whole interaction with Conlan, and the details about his clothes and Jared's reaction to them. I liked that Jared “considered retreat,” and especially that he played Brent's game for a week and it wasn't that good. That seemed like a very real reaction!

    Very picky, because I don't have anything else, but you do use "a zillion" twice in three paragraphs. Maybe replace one.

    I felt like this really came together when we met Conlan and Tariq, and the dialogue here was excellent. And then it got even better as Brent got out of his car! Jared's internal dialogue as he sees him is very good. Jared's a likable guy. I'm enjoying his story, and think my middle-grade kids would, too. Good luck!

  5. Hi Rebecca!

    Yay, middle grade! I love reading middle grade.

    In the first paragraph, I initially thought that his mom made him go to the camp, but obviously he wants to go because of the gaming class. Could you rephrase that last sentence to make the decision more apparently his? Something like, "Despite Mom's insistence, I was on a bus headed to a camp for math and science nerds, because Brent Kagon, kid gaming genius, had learned how to build an app that made him a zillion dollars, and so would I."

    In P2, I'd condense, "I didn't go to school there," to "I didn't go there."

    In P3, it took me a second read to parse the camp situation. If I'm reading right, Maxine is also at the science camp, and the narrator WAS going to attend Boy Scout Camp, or he did for just one week, but now he's with his sister?

    Further down, the paragraph beginning with, "I was about to get my first experience meeting geniuses," needs a little more context. Maxine has been established as very smart, so wouldn't he connect her interests and geekiness to the camp as a whole, like, "Oh great, a camp full of Maxines with their hands full of calculators and beakers."

    Further, would an MG boy say, "fashion advice"? I'm not sure. I really like Conlan's camo shirt and loud pants though!

    (I also love Tariq's shirt. Love it.)

    I love, "thinnest, most beautiful MacBook." :-D

    Would he use a word like, "groupie"? Maybe fanboy?

    Overall, I like that you jump right into the camp setting and establish the main cast of characters.

    1. Thanks for your comments...all very helpful. But, "Oh great, a camp full of Maxines..." Yes! That has to go in. Awesome!

  6. Hi Rebecca –

    Thank you for sharing your story.

    I can tell you the kids in my 5th grade class would be all over this concept. The “fish out of water” aspect of Jared is appealing, especially since the middle school years are prime time for feeling that way. It makes him relatable. Your voice feels like a good match for Jared as well. I agree with the comments above on how to tighten up some voice issues.

    I like the intention in the opening paragraph, but I think you can rework it into a zippier lead.

    You already have so many wonderful suggestions that I would second, so I’ll add a few questions that went through my head as I was reading:

    Why is he going to a “genius” camp if he isn’t considered gifted? Would there be a criteria he had to meet to get into the camp?

    If they are going to camp for a Geochaching program, why does he switch to computer apps? Would the campers have already pre-signed up for a track or specialty?

    Is Jared responsible for Aaron going to camp? I had to tease out what the relationships were with Jared/Max/Aaron.

    How about trying some physical specifics like sinus pain or ear pops instead of saying “my head was ready to explode?”

    Why is Jared unsure of where Aaron will go when they get to camp? Wouldn’t they have already discussed it?

    How about trying a description of how the kid’s clothes accentuate his weight instead of just saying “chunky?” And why is Jared so fixated on the clothing?

    What if you try introducing the nerd t-shirt sayings on the bus to set the tone of the campers Jared is stuck with? Love the t-shirts by the way.

    Jared says he’s considering retreating – is that really a choice?

    Why would Kagon be a camper if he’s already so accomplished? Could he be a guest mentor? That gives you room to make him an even bigger jerk if he’s not fulfilling his role model position.

    Could the hero worship for Kagon come in earlier when we are first leaning about Jared’s gaming talents?

    I’m really drawn to what you’ve set up here. You’ve given yourself so many fun places to go. Looking forward to your revision.