Sunday, June 7, 2015

First 5 Pages June Workshop - Murphy

Julie Murphy
Young Adult
I Hate My Life

I hate my life and I hate myself for cutting. Mom would be so mad if she found out.
Lexie held the razor blade tightly in her left hand and looked at her soft inner thigh. She made a tentative scratch. No blood came and she pressed deeper until the scratch began to bleed. Sighing with relief, Lexie closed her eyes and relaxed with the pain. She sat on the toilet absently rubbing the cut. Five minutes later, she wadded up the bloody toilet paper, checked the cut once more and flushed the paper down the toilet. This was the deepest cut she had made in two months.

Settling on the bright green and purple bedspread, Lexie randomly typed in numbers on her iPhone and pressed Send. She looked around the detritus (a favorite new word from English class) of the room she shared with her sister, Angel. Scattered crayons, random papers, and Angelina Ballerina books littered the desktop. Lexie shuddered as she looked at the open door of the closet: cluttered shoes and sweaters and dresses never hung up. She crinkled her nose and sniffed.   It smelled like dolls and baby powder.

She looked for her drawings from art class but realized they were buried under Angel’s books. Sighing, she gave up the hunt for another day.

She sat cross-legged, as still as a Buddha, and mentally reviewed the newest reason why she hated her life: Kelsey, her best friend, had not returned her calls or texts since Friday. I’ll bet Kelsey hates me; I have no friends; I have no one. I feel so alone.

Lexie walked to the dresser, opened the third drawer, and reached under her underwear to grasp a parquet box. She lifted its lid and picked up the old newspaper article on top. It was dated March 3, the day after her birthday. The front-page headline read: Baby Girl Abandoned at Local Hospital. Lexie unfolded the creased paper. She slid her fingers over the page, pausing over the crinkles to smooth them out. She mouthed the words memorized from so many years of reading the article:

Baby Girl Abandoned at Local Hospital

Hospital officials report that a baby girl less than thirty minutes old was left at the emergency room door of the Winston County Hospital. The infant weighed seven pounds eight ounces. She was wrapped in a tattered Virginia tee shirt. “Although the umbilical cord was still attached,” a hospital spokesperson, Marie Lucas, reported, “the baby is healthy and doing well.”

Local police are asking citizens to help find a car seen speeding from the parking lot. It was identified as an old dark colored car missing a taillight and the right rear passenger window. Officials are also asking the mother to come forward, stating that she will not be prosecuted for abandoning the baby.

Lexie whispered, “What kind of mother abandons her newborn baby like that? She must have been a monster.” That baby girl was her, Alexis Suzette Wren, who had been placed in foster care two days later.

Mom’s voice intruded, “Alexis, supper is almost ready. Come set the table.”

“Why do I have to set the table? Her majesty, Princess Angelina, never sets the table,” mumbling, walking into the kitchen.

“What did you say?” asked her mother in that sharp voice Lexie hated so much.

“Nothing.” She grabbed four plates.

She stopped at the high chair to greet Damon, her adopted baby brother. “Hi, Bubba,” she cooed at the two-year-old who looked back at her with solemn black eyes. She rubbed his thick wavy hair, then patted down her own bushy dark hair.

Damon burst into a chorus of gibberish, gestured to Lexie while she placed the plates and silverware on the table. She handed him a spoon and he began to bang on the tray of his high chair. The kitten darted from under the table and ran into the other room. She grinned at the laughing baby. “Baby Bro, when will you learn to speak English so we can understand you?”

“The people at the orphanage spoke only Haitian Creole to him, so it may take him more than two months to learn English.” Mom laughed. “By the way, I have a doctor’s appointment for him on Wednesday. I need you to watch Angel for me when you get home from school. It’s so hard to take her with us. Get the blue bowl for the corn, please.” Oh, sure, Princess Angel gets to stay home and I have to play with her.

Lexie stood on tiptoes to reach the bowl. She dropped to her feet, slammed the cabinet door, and banged the bowl on the granite counter top. She winced at the loud noise and glanced toward her mother. She quickly poured the corn and placed the bowl on the table.

Mom chopped the carrots with such force that ends flew off the cutting board. She grabbed them and threw them in the sink. Not looking up, she said, “Ask Kelsey to come here. She can stay for dinner, and I’ll rent you a movie.  And she can sleep over.” Mom added the carrots to the salad and pushed back a strand of blonde hair off her round freckled face. “I haven’t seen her all weekend. Anything the matter?”

“I don’t want her to see my messy room. I hate having Angel in my room.”

Mom’s blue eyes flashed as she let out a sigh. “Lexie, give me a break. We’ve talked about this a million times. The people at the orphanage thought it best for Damon to have a room close to ours. Taking Angel’s room was best because it’s next to ours and you have the other bath. Turning the bonus room into a bedroom for you will take time and money.”

The beat of Damon’s spoon on the tray matched the throb of Lexie’s headache. Her voice droned – yada, yada, yada, and Lexie tuned her mother out.

At dinner, Angel babbled about being a princess and riding her new Princess bike with her friend, Amanda. Lexie grimaced thinking of those two blonde, blue-eyed girls in their matching pink outfits riding their matching Princess bikes. Lexie must have groaned out loud. Dad’s voice rumbled, “Are you okay?”

She smiled weakly into her dad’s big blue eyes, “Yes, Dad, I’m fine.”

"Sweetie, you’ve been quiet all weekend. Where’s Kelsey? She usually comes over.” Dad scratched the top of his bald head with one hand and shoved the last of a chocolate chip cookie in his mouth with his other.

“Kelsey has something else to do,” Lexie lied.

Her issues with Kelsey started on Wednesday at the church supper. Lexie filled her plate with fried chicken and mashed potatoes and grabbed a bowl of banana pudding. Rushing to the back of the fellowship hall, she arrived just in time to see Logan and Kelsey claim the only empty seats at the table.

“Sorry, Lexie,” Kelsey mouthed.

“Let’s go to the last table.”

“We’re here. See you in class.”

Lexie stomped to the nearest table and ate so fast she didn’t remember chewing. After she cooled off, she decided to forgive Kelsey and saved her and Logan seats at the meeting. Logan sat between Kelsey and Lexie; Kelsey talked to Logan, not her. Fuming, Lexie silently vowed to herself she would never save Kelsey a place again.


  1. Wow, Julie, what an intense and powerful story. Your MC has certainly been through a lot already, and I am always glad to see stories that address the difficult situations many kids face in real life.

    A few suggestions: The opening with the cutting such an intense image, it makes everything else in the opening pale in comparison. When she's complaining about her friend, or her sister, or sharing her room, I'm still so shaken by the cutting, that it's hard for me to focus on those. Consider allowing us to spend some time with Lexie in her regular day-to-day first, before the cutting. Let us get to know and care about her. I think it would make that scene even more intense.

    Also, be careful about the exposition in dialogue. In particular, I tripped over the line about the brother speaking Haitian Creole.

    Finally, Lexie sometimes came off as a little whiny to me. I kept thinking, Is it so awful to have to share a room? Or that you went a weekend without seeing your friend? In the opening pages, I want to have an MC I can root for. Consider letting us see more of her fun or heroic characteristics, or even her snark or sarcasm. Let me like her.

    Best of luck with this! Can't wait to see the revision!

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  3. The opening scene is gripping. This description is detailed and makes me want to read on. I don't think you need the first line, "I hate my life and I hate myself for cutting. Mom would be so mad if she found out." It also confuses the point of view. Is the story third person or first person?

    Your details about the room she shares is detailed and I can see it. I got confused about who was the messy one. This was cleared up later but should be clear at first.

    When we first hear about Kelsey, it's in a statement by mom. I'm wondering if Lexie could think internally about her first. When the mother first brought her up, I thought she was another sibling in the household.

    The ending scene with the friends at the church supper was confusing.

    You really set up a gripping tale here of a teenage cutter. You also let us know early one what the reasons are for her disease. I have never read a book about cutting, so I am really curious about how this problem will be addressed in this family and how it will be resolved.

  4. Your first paragraph is intense and pulled me in, but then I feel the rest peters out a bit in comparison. Also, I'm not keen on your first line since that is just telling. You show us how she's feeling in the rest of the paragraph really well, so it isn't even needed.

    In the following paragraphs, I wanted to get more of a feel for why she is doing this. Show us her anxiety, anger, loneliness. Sharing a room with a sister and a weekend without her friend aren't that big of issues, or didn't feel so dramatic here. I think they could. The newspaper article is intense and provides a great piece of information with a hint as to the reasons for cutting. However, I feel like you loose pacing with her sitting on the bed and telling us how alone she feels. It would be more powerful if you show us more of her loneliness -- wandering around the house aimlessly -- pacing the room. It might also make sense to move the church supper up to when she's in her room before she gets the newspaper article and show us more about her and the issues with her friend. This gives us more of her emotions. I was also confused about her punching random numbers and hitting send. Perhaps give us a reason for looking for art -- she's bored and lonely and wants to work on one of the pieces, but it's not worth wading through sister's stuff. I'm almost getting the depressed and nothing holds her attention feel, but not quite. Show more anger and feeling of unfairness about her sister sharing her room now -- show us earlier that this is a new development as well. Show us earlier why she's mad at her friend -- or why her friend hates her now. I'm not quite feeling for her yet.

    I'm wondering if princess Angel is adopted as well or their real child. This could show us character -- give another reason for her insecurity or whatever it is that is causing her to cut herself. If Angel isn't' adopted, this could be a good source of tension.

    By the way her other chopped the carrots, I wasn't sure if her mom was mad at her for giving her attitude, or a "not this again" feeling, or something else.

    I think you've got everything here you need for a great opening to a book about an intense topic. Mostly you need to show us more and pull us in with the showing. I would read more to find out why she's doing this, and how she and her family will deal with it.

    I hope this helps. I look forward to reading your revision.


  5. Hi, Julie! Thank you for submitting this. Your opening scene is intense! I don't think you necessarily need the first line, though. It feels out of place. Your description of the cutting, however, is spot on and well done. That said, I'm not sure it fits well right here at the start.

    It's such an intensely powerful scene, but we don't really know Lexie yet. We haven't had the opportunity to get to know her, so it's somewhat difficult for readers to identify with her. You want your opening to be powerful (which it is), but you also want to give readers someone to identify with and root for, which is what I'm worried we're missing here.

    You've got a wonderful narrative voice (which is one of the most difficult things to achieve), so my biggest suggestion would be to work on how you set up this opening scene. I'd suggest merging the intensity of the cutting with the sense of claustrophobia Lexie is experiencing from living in a house with so many people and not enough privacy. If she's trying to cut herself in the bathroom and keeps being interrupted (or something like that), that would show us all of the things she's feeling without all the exposition (it's the old "show don't tell" advice).

    Overall, I really quite enjoyed this snippet and I can't wait to see where you take it. Just really take some time to think about what you're trying to achieve in this opening and what the best way to go about that is.

  6. This is intense. I'll echo what others have said and state that your opening is powerful. I think you can delete the "I hate my life" thought.

    Have you read Laurie Halse Anderson? If not, you should. She writes about young women on the edge very eloquently. We can all learn from her.

    I would agree that we need to stay on Lexie and really feel her pain before we get into the mundane day-to-day stuff in the kitchen. I think this kind of subject begs for metaphor and bleakness. Let us feel that through getting inside her head.

    I do think you have a great voice, so you're already halfway there.

    Good job! Looking forward to see how this progresses.

  7. Julie, welcome to the workshop! Thanks for allowing us to take a peek at your opening pages.

    This is an interesting opening, with plenty of meat. The opening with the cutting caught my attention right away. I'd recommend adjusting that opening though, to make it even more dramatic. I mean, this is dramatic stuff, so let's build on that. You may want to open with something along the lines of "Lexie held the sharp blade above her inner thigh." She hates herself for cutting? Let's "feel" that. Let's experience that. And after she cuts herself, let's feel the pain. I know it's a release for her, but let's actually experience the feeling of that sliced skin. And yes, it's a release, but how does she feel after that? Does she feel ashamed? Sad? Fearful?

    "Show" that she hates herself, don't tell us :)

    Which brings me to another point. Yes, her mom would be mad if she found out. Let's expand on that as well. What if Lexie hears mom clanging in the kitchen, spoons against bowls, and then that noise stops. Then she hears footsteps down the hall. She pauses before the blade sinks into her skin. Mom's footsteps pause outside the bathroom door, and then she does what this particular mom would do. Does she knock? Does she pause and then move on? That would create plenty of conflict in this opening.

    I'd ditch the flashback with Kelsey in the opening. It's way too soon. We barely know Lexie, and now we're hearing about her with the guy and an event that we know nothing about. Let's get to know Lexie first. Let's sympathize with her. Later, when it matters more, you can insert important events with Kelsey. Right now we know that there's a rift, and I think that's enough for the opening.

    One other small thing. No need to mention the color of each character's eyes. Unless it's the love interest! We want to know the color of dreamy eyes!

    This promises to be a dramatic story with events that will resonate with plenty of girl readers. I look forward to the revision!

  8. Hi Julie! This is a very striking and intense way to start, but I agree with the other folks here – it’ll be stronger if you keep that ace in your hand a little longer. We know that Lexie is cutting because it brings her a sense of relief. If you can take the time to build up the tension/pain that she’s trying to relieve, the moment will be even starker when we get there.

    I think there are a lot of great components in this introduction to Lexie’s life, and there’s a lot of opportunity to dig into those and really draw out how they’re affecting her emotional state. Sharing a bedroom with a younger sibling is a great detail that lots of your readers will identify with, and I think you can use the conflict to flesh out Lexie’s issues even more. Bedrooms say a lot about the people in them – so how does Lexie feel about Angel’s toys and clothing invading her space? How about her privacy? It’s already hard to share a room with a sibling who needs a lot more parental supervision, but Lexie also has to hide her cutting. Is she paranoid they’ll find out? How does she feel about her parents prioritizing her baby brother’s needs over her?

    Likewise, I think you’ve got a very relatable conflict with Kelsey’s MIA status, but we don’t need to know the nitty-gritty yet. Just alluding to the question of ‘is my best friend mad at me’ is enough. It begets a lot of questions – Is Lexie worrying over nothing? Does she think she did something wrong? Is Kelsey the type to go incommunicado for days, or is that really serious? Letting those questions dangle means the readers will keep going to find out.

    All in all, I think there’s a lot of great material here, and in these first few pages you’ve introduced two very relatable conflicts. Just play around with the order this gets dished out, and think about using these conflicts to flesh out the characters even more.

    Good luck with the revisions!

  9. Hi Julie! This is coming in under the wire, I know, but I enjoyed reading your excerpt! I do have to chime in with the others though and say that the intensity of your opening doesn't' really match the feel of a lot of the rest of the excerpt.

    It might be just me, but I also had a bit of a hard time with the cutting scene. It's powerful, but it didn't ring quite true for me. For example, I'm not a doctor, but I'm pretty sure if this cut is noticeably deeper than others she's made (assuming every cut she makes bleeds) it's gonna take more than five minutes of absentminded rubbing to get it to stop bleeding. Especially if it's the inner thigh. (Also if I remember correctly, there IS an artery there, so you might want to make sure she actually pays attention to where she's cutting)

    The other problem is that even though you have a strong voice, I'm not seeing enough of what she's actually feeling, physically and emotionally. What kind of overwhelming feelings is she seeking relief FROM? Is she feeling unreal or dissociative? Does she need the grounding of the sensations, or does it give her something else to think about when she has overwhelming emotions? And what do those emotions feel like in her body?

    I know it might seem nitpicky, but I feel like for this to ring true, I need to see what's going on inside her a bit more. Have you read Scars by Cheryl Rainfield? It's extremely intense, but it's a very good example of what I mean.

    Good luck with the revisions! Excited to see what you come up with next!