Free writing workshop for aspiring authors of young adult and middle grade fiction. The first five pages may be all that agents, editors, and readers read, so get them right with the help of three authors over the course of three weeks. During the third week, an agent will also critique your pages and your pitch and pick a workshop winner - the prize is a partial request!
I gather Sunshine from her nest by placing my cupped hands under her fluffy breast. I gurgle to her in her own language then say, “Here you go, come to me.”
Sunshine hops up and on to my shoulders. She paces from one shoulder to the next, tangling my hair up in her feathers. She gurgles and shifts. I cradle her like a football, tucking her under my arm hoping to settle her nerves.
When I check her roosting spot, it looks disturbed. Like someone or some thing was digging for her eggs. No eggs. A little shiver runs up my spine. Usually, she lays an egg each day, a light blue or pale green Easter egg.
Sunshine’s a fully-feathered Americana hen, gold and white. According to Momma, chickens don’t like to be held. She says, “Why you carry your chicken around like that all day, Blessen? Don’t you know chickens are born to roam, not be carried around like a baby doll?” But Sunshine is special, an affectionate chicken, not typical of her breed, but this morning she’s twitchy.
“Sunshine, did you have a visitor last night?”
I put her down outside the coop and scatter some seed. She settles into a focused peck, peck, peck, eating her breakfast.
Lurking under a gardenia bush near the coop, I spy a small black and white kitten. He curves his back and hisses as Sunshine pecks near, but she just ignores him. Such little white paws could not have spread the straw so wildly.
“Where’d you come from, little one? Where’s your momma?”
I walk over to him. Hold my hand out in offering, curling my fingers back and forth. He comes to me and rubs against my leg. When I pick him up, he grabs my arm and sinks his little teeth in. I drop him back to the ground. He arches his back and pounces on Sunshine’s white tail feathers. Sunshine turns her head then continues her pecking. Her breakfast will not be interrupted by a pesky kitten.
Momma calls from the kitchen window.
“Blessen, come get some Frosted Flakes. The bus’ll be here soon!”
“Little Tuxedo, I’ll get you some fresh milk,” I tell the pouncy kitten. I’ll have to figure out the mystery of the missing eggs later.
The bus honks at the end of True Friend Road as I scurry, hauling my heavy backpack onto my back. I bend over as I trot so I don’t fall over backwards. Sixth grade books are not made for skinny wimpy kids. It probably weighs twenty-five pounds. Momma says I need to eat more to grow some meat on my bones. She calls me her little bird.
I hear chuckles when I lumber into my seat, the first row right behind Miss Geraldine Lewis, our bus driver. She’s sweet most of the time until the kids get rowdy, which happens on a regular basis. I like to sit there, so I can see out and not smell that bus smell. It makes me nauseous.
Miss G. lets me control the radio. This morning it cheers me up to hear Taylor Swift singing “Love Story.”
Mandy Doucet gets on at the next stop and plops right next to me flipping her black slick hair right in my face. She giggles and starts chattering without even taking a break. Mandy got a haircut last week and now her bangs are too short to tuck behind her ears and too long to stay out of her eyes, so she is constantly flipping her head and running her hands through her thin hair. It shines in the sun like a new pair of black shoes. Mandy’s momma is white like my momma, but her daddy is Laotian, so Mandy’s bi-racial like me. We sit together most days. She’s a talker. I’m a listener. This morning she won’t hush up about her new so-say boyfriend, Jaden Babineaux.
“Jaden texted me last night the sweetest thing you ever heard. He says like maybe we could get together at break and kiss in the gym under the bleachers. I texted him back and said, ‘no freaking way!’ That’s the way Misty Gondron got suspended, and my daddy would kill me if that happened.”
I let Mandy rattle on while I look out the window at the cane fields passing by. I think about my chicken, Blue, that I lost to a hawk last year. Blue was my first-ever pet that I had to take total care of, and I failed. I left the latch of the pen open. She got out and must’ve looked too tempting for the hovering raptor. I wonder if a hawk could’ve stolen Sunshine’s eggs. But that doesn’t make any sense. A hawk couldn’t get into the coop. What coulda’ been scavenging around in Sunshine’s bed?
All day long I can’t get my mind off of Sunshine. I draw sketches of her in different positions in my notebook. This way it looks like I am taking notes in class. My drawing skills are improving, I do believe, with all this practice time.
Ms. Fullilove announces a 4-H meeting over the intercom. I told my new science teacher, Ms. Jemima Fullilove, about Sunshine, and she got me all signed up to be in the 4-H club at school. In fourth grade I was in 4-H, and I grew sugarcane in the field by my house with my grandpaw, Pawpee. Pawpee is gone to God now, so I need a new project. I told Ms. Fullilove I’ll join her 4-H club on the condition that no one could buy and kill my new hen. She said there are some competitions that don’t involve killing.
We gather in the library. I try not to sit next to Mandy because I know she’ll talk to me the whole time, and I might miss vital info. I sit in the back behind the computers. Ronnie Thibodeaux sits next to me. Ronnie is white with freckles and pimples. He may be cute under all that, but I don’t see it. His auburn hair is short in the back and long in the front, a weird new style with the boys. They think they’re so cool when they can throw their heads to the side and toss their bangs. To me, it looks stupid.
Ronnie pulls his chair close to mine and says, “Blessen, what you enterin’ this year? Da sugarcane competition?”
“Not this year” I answer. In fourth grade when my Pawpee was alive, I won first place with my sugarcane. Pawpee was a masterful farmer. He taught me all about planting and growing sugarcane. Wouldn’t feel right for me to compete without him.
“I’ve got a new show chicken. She’s an Americana show, Easter egger. You should see her beautiful eggs. They are green and blue, soft colors like Easter eggs.” Except for today. Empty nest. Maybe she stopped laying eggs for some reason. What reason? Egg layin’ is what Sunshine does best.
“I’m showing my pig, Rooster, and my calf, Big Ben.”
I giggle at the names Ronnie chose for his pets. “Are you gonna sell ‘em?” I ask.
“I don’t know. Depends on my daddy. He might want the money, but he may hold out for next year. We’ll see what the bids are.”