Sunday, February 22, 2015

First 5 Pages February Workshop - Levy Rev 2

Sheri S. Levy
YA- (10-14) Contemporary
Starting Over

(Note - Sheri has a publisher so she is not posting a query)

On the hour, my eight-week-old Labrador woke with bouts of squeaky yelps. My legs swung over the edge of the bed as if on autopilot, sending my frizzy hair across my face. I collected the mass into a ponytail and staggered across the hall. “Colton, I’m coming.
Flicking-on the overhead lights in the laundry room, I blinked and Colton ducked his head. “Hey, little guy. I’m sorry you’re lonesome.”
His wispy, black tail whipped back and forth as he strained to set his short, front legs at the top of the baby gate. Like a prize fighter he tried again, and again, until he collapsed on the floor, whining.
I climbed over the gate, sat, cradled his-plump body, and buried my face in his fuzz, inhaling his toasty puppy smell. Two years ago during a school assembly about service-dogs, I had a brilliant idea. If I became a Puppy Raiser, I’d have puppy after puppy and never another old dog. But this plan had one flaw. I never thought about getting attached.
Yesterday, I had an eighteen-month-old qualified service dog, Sydney. Today, I mended my heart by choosing to train again. Tonight, anxiety filled me-
We stared into each other’s eyes. “Are you going to be waking this often, every night?” Colt’s ears drooped and I stroked the velvety softness. Memories of Sydney flooded my thoughts. When his family moved away from South Carolina, Syd became my first six-month old-puppy, already trained in his basic needs, and slept all night.
But Colton was a blank slate. And-I’d be his first, and only, foster momma until he turned eighteen months old.
His warm, chocolate-brown eyes melted the cracks of my heart.
I surveyed the newspapers covering the floor, scrunched my nose, and shook my head. If I had known how much work was involved would I--? I sucked-in my cheek. Yeah! I nodded. I’m almost fourteen.-I’ll figure this out! I wadded up the messy papers and spread new ones on the swirled beige and rust colored tile floor. “All done! Let’s go outside.”
After a quick romp with the sensor light going off and on, I placed him and a handful of kibbles inside his crate. “Night-night. Ple-a-s-e go to sleep.”
His face lay in the opening of his crate, and he fought to keep his eyes open.
If I could get a little more sleep, it’d be an easier day tomorrowWhat I am I thinking? It’s already tomorrowI pictured chasing Colton in the muggy air, teaching him new words, cleaning his messes, and then snuggling together. Before long, the sun leaked under my eyelids.
A whiff of coffee jolted me out of bed and told me my parents were up. Was Colton still sleeping? Twisting a curl tickling my neck, I scurried into the kitchen, and scanned the room.
Mom leaned her head. “Hey, Trina. Sounded like a rough night?”
I nodded, rubbing my face. “Yep. Is he still sleeping?”
Dad set his coffee cup down. “We heard you two all night, but we promised to stay put.”
Grabbing her purse, Mom said, “Dr. Mayer called early this morning and needs my help at the clinic. She has a sick dog coming in. Since I was up, I played with little Colt. When he wakes, he’s all yours!
“Wow! Thanks for the help.” Before finishing my cereal, howls pierced the silence. I rolled my eyes, grinning. “Okay. I’m back on duty!”
#               #              #
In the yard, Colt’s ears raised at the clunk, clunk, of Mrs. Brown’s golf cart driving up the path to her paddocks next door. As I collapsed in the shade, Colton stared toward the clatter, and for safety, scrambled over my crossed legs. I whispered in his ear. “Mrs. B is bringing in the horses. You’ll get to meet her soon.”
He looked toward the hidden racket, lost interest, and charged through the woods. The sun simmered overhead and brought a wilted pup onto my lap. I carried him to his crate, and he crumpled into a small heap. “Whew--Finally!”
I bounced into the recliner and texted my once again best friend, Sarah, since we’d patched our friendship while on vacation.
Instantly, she texted. “How’s Colton?”
“Too much to text. Meet me in 10!”
Sarah texted three smiley faces.
I threw-on yesterday’s clothes and rushed up the path to the old oak tree, anticipation bubbling through my veins. I needed to see Chancy, the barn-schooling horse. Heather cared for her while I was gone, and I worried she’d decide to buy her.
Seeing Sarah arrive in her fresh, cute outfit and her blond-hair French-braided, I tucked loose strands of red-hair into my ponytail. She looped her arm through mine, and jabbered about Peyton’s texts, her first time boyfriend from our beach trip. We inched forward, me nodding and smiling. I had made friends with his brother, Chase, and might have shared about our texts, when a grumbly, loud noise like a cement truck grew closer and interrupted our conversation.
Sarah squinted. “What’s that noise?”
“Sounds like a big diesel truck. Let’s get closer.” Behind a wide tree trunk, we spied the silver-gray, dually-truck pulling a white two-horse trailer with matching five gray-hearts interlocked along the sides. “That must be the new boarder. I forgot she was coming today.
The truck shifted, grinding its gears, and slowed onto Mrs. Brown’s drive.
Sarah screamed over the noise. “Do you know how old she is?”
“Mrs. B said she’s in the ninth grade.” As the commotion lessened, I added, “And, she’s supposed to be a REALLY good rider!”
The engine turned off, and a tall, dark-skinned man leaped from the driver’s side. At the same time, a long-legged, skinny girl in black riding pants and shiny black boots stepped down from the front passenger door. The sun shined on her round brown face, poufy bangs and ponytail, and flashed on her dressage whip waving in the air as if it were a sword.
We froze behind another tree.
The girl’s harsh voice boomed through the trees, “Dad, why’d you stop here? You’re too close to the barn. What the?--”
Without saying a word, her father opened the trailer’s top half doors and latched the panels to each side. From the rear of the trailer, a stately, black horse kicked and neighed. Standing on opposite sides of the trailer, they each pulled a clip out of the lock and set the ramp on the ground.
The girl climbed in a side door to untie the horse. He put one hoof a couple of inches behind, and then took another step. With a frantic snort, he blew air from his nose and lurched forward.
She screamed at the horse. “Knight, walk. Get-off-the-trailer.” Her whip slapped at the air. “What’s wrong with you?”
Without warning, the horse threw his head and bolted backwards down the ramp. The whites of his eyes showed as his head shook, wildly. White foam lathered his shiny chest.
Her voice raised an octave. “Dad! He’s getting away.” Then she shrieked, “Move!-You’re no help!”
Holding my breath, I clutched Sarah’s arm.
The father rushed over and pulled the whip from the girl’s hands. “Morgan, Quiet down. You’re frightening Knight. Give him a chance.”
She jerked the lead line. “Knight, you stupid horse. You know better.”
I scrunched my face, shook my head, and huffed, “Oh My Gawd! I could never be friends with someone who treats her horse like that. What’s she doing at my barn?”


  1. I don't have anything to say to this other than great job. The improvement since the first version is outstanding. It's much more compelling and the pacing is better than before.

    Congrats, Sheri. :)

  2. Thank you. Needed to know if the backstory helped . This was so helpful. Everyone who had read the first book didn't see the parts that were missing. I am thrilled I got to be a part of this workshop.

    1. I know how you feel! I've written so many drafts of my first chapter that my friends know too much to tell me what's missing. :)

  3. Hi Sheri,

    I've really enjoyed watching your process. Congratulations on your forward progress. This beginning pulls me in on both the emotion and curiosity fronts.

    I like the tie ins with the earlier dog in this version, fills the story out.

    Nothing new to add from my previous notes except I'm wondering who Heather is?

    I see from the notes you already have a publisher. Hooray! I wish you success with your story. Thank you for sharing your work.

  4. Thank you, Leslie. Yes, this is the sequel to Seven Days to Goodbye. And because of this wonderful workshop, I gained so much valuable information on doing a sequel!! Having new eyes seeing these pages was fabulous!!

  5. This reads very easily; I didn't find myself pulled out of the story as I was going along. There were a few extra commas or missing quotation marks, but you'll be able to fix those on your own. :) I think the backstory definitely helps, even to pull us back in if we've read the first one, but definitely if we haven't. It's great to introduce both main storylines right up front -- Colton and Morgan -- and the pacing is very readable now. You have a knack for describing cuddly little puppies that just makes me want to cuddle one! Thanks for sharing!

  6. Thanks, Abigail. Everyone saw things I didn't know I needed. You are very observant and it was so helpful. Thanks for the support.
    Stay in touch! Good luck with your wonderful story!

  7. Hey Sheri! Wow! This was so great to read. I think you’ve smoothed things out so wonderfully, and the story flows great now. I only have a couple nits and comments, since this is working so well:

    Maybe do “staggered down the hall” in the first paragraph, to avoid the repeat of “across” from the sentence above.

    There’s an extra hyphen in “his-plump body” in paragraph four.

    Maybe change “I’d have puppy after puppy and never another old dog.” To “I’d have puppy after puppy and never have to say goodbye to another old dog”. Otherwise it sounded kinda harsh, like she doesn’t care about old dogs, but I’m guessing the opposite is true—saying goodbye to an old dog is too painful, because of all the time spent together.

    Great fix on the Mom’s line about playing with Colton! Makes total sense this way.

    Great details about Sarah!

    I’m so impressed with this revision! You’ve done some amazing work here. ☺

    1. Thanks, Chelsea. That's a nice compliment. After having the first book, Seven Days to Goodbye, published, I found my confidence waning. But I heard from others this was pretty typical. So I just dug my heels in and started. I made myself write from beginning to end, and then started revisions. I did this workshop before I began submitting the first story. It was fabulous then and again so helpful. I certainly appreciate all the guidance and I now feel more confident with my first pages. I will follow up with your suggestions.

    2. I'm so glad it's been helpful! It's been such a pleasure reading these openings. :)

  8. Hey Sheri - I'm in agreement with everyone else! Love this revision! I did wonder who Heather was and why she would buy the horse, but otherwise no questions!

    I've bought Seven Days and can't wait to get started!

    1. Hi Meghan. You are the second one to question about Heather. She does come in to the story later. Do I need to explain her in these first pages???
      I'm thrilled you want to read my first novel!! Thank you!! That's very special...I'm game to stay in touch and help if you need extra reading eyes.

  9. Hi Sheri,

    I really enjoyed reading this revision. I was completely engaged with your MC and Colton. The bit of back story you added early on really helped me identify with her, but didn't feel overwhelming. Great job.

    For some reason, your MC's hair bothered me in this round. I know, small detail, but details matter. I have a hard time picturing "frizzy" hair falling in her face. Usually frizzy hair has a way of sticking up and standing out away from your head and face. Just think about it. I was picturing everything so vividly, this gave me pause.

    Not sure if I missed something where you say. "Tonight. anxiety filled me--" It seems to cut off abruptly and I wasn't sure what you meant.

    I too was left wondering who's Heather? Yes, we need a sentence to explain or give us a bit more insight. You lost me a bit in that para. Otherwise, we go back to re-read and make sure we didn't miss Heather the first time she was introduced.

    Last thing, at the end of this sample the MC says "my barn." I'm unclear if this is literally her barn, or if she means, she goes there a lot and treats it as IF it's her barn. That's it!

    Good luck, Sheri! Keep us posted on the path and publisher!!!

  10. Thanks, Lisa. Good points! I will play with those thoughts and I don't think they will be difficult to fix. My first YA novel, Seven Days to Goodbye, was published by Barking Rain Press at the end of August, 2014.They have been wonderful to work with and the whole process has been so much fun. I entered the novel in the Dog Writers Association writing contest, and it won in the Special Interest category. It was a huge contest and I feel honored to have been a part. I'm doing middle school visits and enjoying speaking to the students. There's more info on my Thanks for asking. Getting everyone's critiques has helped immensely.

    1. That is so awesome, Sheri. Please do stay in touch.

  11. Wow, so impressed with the flow of this now! Great revisions.

    There were really only a couple things that caught my eye. A few puncuation things here and there, and then I also had to re-read this line a few times to understand what she meant about "might have shared about our texts":

    "I had made friends with his brother, Chase, and might have shared about our texts, when a grumbly, loud noise like a cement truck grew closer and interrupted our conversation."

    I think I got tripped up because there are so many people mentioned in the sentence that I didn't know who "our" referred to or who she was sharing the texts with. Also could very likely just be my jet-lagged brain! :)

  12. Thanks, Carissa, good points. Getting close to finalizing, still have some fixing to do! All these suggestions are great! Probably not from jet-lag- thanks for commenting!

  13. Dear Ms. Levy,

    Congratulations on having found a publisher! I would strongly suggest that you still consider querying agents as securing deals for authors is only a small percentage of the services that an agent provides. Having a skilled negotiator in your corner to nail down the details of your contract as well as to handle your foreign rights and manage your future career is a truly valuable resource. However, I am sure you have weighed your options. Let’s talk about your work.

    As someone who grew up in Ohio, I strongly appreciate a book filled with puppies and horses. I found the writing in this piece to be very technically strong. Solid use of syntax and grammar, which creates smooth readability. Unfortunately, I had some trouble with the voice of Trina. Trina did not seem like a 13-year old girl to me. Moments like “If I could get a little more sleep, it’d be an easier day tomorrow” and “since we’d patched our friendship while on vacation” just don’t read to me as a seventh grade girl. I think honing in on Trina’s characterization is key. What does she look like? At this point all we know is she has red hair. What is she excited about? Why did she decide to take on the responsibility of these animals at such a young age? Why did her parents let her? I really wanted more from her. Trina is smack dab in the middle of puberty when everything is a BIG DEAL. I wanted to feel that in her.

    Thanks for giving me the opportunity to read your work. Best of luck as you continue with it!

  14. Thank you Shelby for those thoughts. I will definitely see how I can improve her characterization. I'm assuming the voice is too old, not too young??? Trina is in the eighth grade and soon turns fourteen. I appreciate your comments. The only way to make this better is to find it's flaws. Off to work!!