Sunday, June 21, 2015

First 5 Pages June Workshop -- Simon Revision 2

Margaret Simon
Middle Grade Fiction

Chapter One: Missing Egg     

In the quiet of the morning, before the sun rises, before the barges move down the bayou, even before the school bus rumbles down True Friend Road, I usually find a miracle waiting for me in the chicken coop.  My best friend is a chicken named Sunshine.  And she lays the most precious light blue eggs.  Every day.

But not today.

I gather Sunshine from her nest by placing my cupped hands under her fluffy breast.  I cackle to her in her own language. She says, “bwack!” and fluffs up her feathers.

 “Stop that cursin’, Sunny-girl. Act like a lady. 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 trills and shifts.  Tucking her under my arm, I rub her soft golden down hoping to settle her. I’ve never seen her so nervous. 

When I check her roosting spot, it looks disturbed. Like someone or some thing was digging for her eggs.  A little shiver runs up my spine.  Come to think of it, the latch was hanging, not hooked.  I’m usually careful to fully latch it at night. 

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 gate 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? Did I fail her, too? What kind of pet owner am I?  

“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.

I look over toward our neighbor’s house and see the shadow of a child moving across the screened porch.  That’s weird.  I thought the house was empty. The For Sale sign still stands in the front yard. I wonder who could be there.  A new friend? An egg thief?

Momma opens the door to our double-wide trailer and calls out, “Blessen, come eat your cereal.  The bus’ll be here soon!”  

I hop up the steps still holding Sunshine in the football hold.

“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? Put her back in the yard.”

“But, Momma, Sunshine’s all a twitter this morning. Someone’s been stealin’ her eggs.   She needs me to comfort her.” Sunshine purrs and bobs her chicken head up and down like she’s agreein. 

“Listen here, Blessen, Sunshine can take care o’ herself.  She don’t need you coddlin’ and spoilin’ her.  Now let her be.” 

I set my hen free in the fenced yard.  She trots off toward the fig tree, her favorite shady spot, and I follow Momma in to finish my breakfast.  No use arguing this early in the morning.  Momma’s working the four to midnight shift at the nursing home, so she’s some kind of grumpy before she has her coffee.

“Momma, did someone buy the Romeros’ house?  I saw a kid on the screened porch.”

“Not that I heard. I’ll ask Miss Norma at the nursing home.  She’ll know.  She makes it her business to know everything about everybody in St. Martinville.”

I watch Momma run her fingers through her straight blonde hair.  I raise my hand to the mop of curls on my head.  I inherited the unruly frizz of my black father.  I have a hard time thinking of anything good that came from him.  Well, except for my grandma, Mae Mae.

“Am I going to Mae Mae’s after school today?”

“That’s the plan.  Why?”

“Just askin’. I need to investigate the missin’ eggs.”

“You can come home to check on Sunshine, but be sure to call Mae Mae if’n you’re gonna be late. Okay?”

“Sure thing.”

I kiss Momma’s flower-scented cheek.  She smells just like her name, Gardenia LeFluer. 

“Bye, baby.  Be good!” Momma calls, her coffee mug muffling the sound. 

The yellow bus honks as I scurry, hauling my heavy backpack onto my back.  I lean forward, so I don’t fall over backwards. Sixth grade books are not made for skinny kids.  They probably weigh twenty-five pounds. Momma says I need to eat more to grow some meat on my bones.  She calls me her little bird. 

I lumber into my seat on the first row right behind Miss Geraldine Lewis, our bus driver.  She’s nice 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 diesel-exhaust-smoky bus smell.  It makes me nauseous. 
Pointing my nose in the direction of the open window, I watch the fields of sugarcane flow by. The tall green stalks sway in the morning breeze. 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, it’s just me and Momma.  And Sunshine. 

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 in middle school.   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.

After losing Blue, I’m particular about the killing of chickens.  Maybe Ms. Fullilove knows why Sunshine’s eggs are missing. 

Chapter Two: Egg Experiment
First period is science with Ms. Fullilove.  She is standing in the doorway holding a light brown egg in her palm. 

“What’s the egg for?” I reach out and pet the egg as if it’s a kitten.

“This is for our lesson, today, Blessen. Go have a seat.  We’ll get started in ten minutes.  Your Monday Moaning prompt is on the board.”  Each day Ms. Fullilove makes us write in our notebooks for ten whole minutes about a prompt of the day.  She calls them Monday Moaning, Tuesday Troubles, Wednesday Woes, etc.

Monday Moaning: Questions about eggs??

Ms. Fullilove is all about the questions.  She says questions are the driving force of science.  I’m excited about this assignment because I have lots of questions about eggs.  But they probably can’t be answered by science.  Like where did Sunshine’s eggs disappear to?   Will she stop laying eggs if she gets stressed out?

Ronnie Thibodeaux is the first to raise his hand to share his questions.  “How come a chicken doesn’t smash her eggs when she’s sittin’ on ‘em?”
“First of all, female chickens are called hens.  Does anyone know why the hen doesn’t crack her eggs by sitting on them?”

I raise my hand, “The hen is made of feathers. They have air in their bones.”

“Yes, Blessen, the hen is a bird and bird’s bones are hollow. Why don’t we create an experiment?”

Another thing about Ms. Fullilove is she loves to do experiments.  Today she’s prepared with a dozen eggs in a carton from the grocery store.  We gather around the center table as she places the eggs in a square. 


  1. Wonderful! Bravo on this revision. You've really nailed this. The opening, of course, is great and sets the scene and problem really well. You've moved Blue up, which helps a lot and makes so much more sense here, and heightens the level of worry for Blessen.

    The neighbor's porch scene seems perhaps a bit thrown in. I like it here, perhaps it could be as simple as adding a line before she sees the shadow on the porch of her searching around to find clues to the missing egg and possible intruder, and while looking notices something strange at the neighbor's house.

    I love the interaction with Mom, this gives us so much information and voice and character. You've given us her race without it being forced. You've given us so much more about her family with this scene.

    A nice introduction to 4-H. This feels much more natural. Although I don't think you need the line "After losing Blue...". But I do like that she thinks to ask Ms. Fulilove about the missing eggs. I think it would be more powerful if you end chapter with something like: I couldn't stand to lose another chicken, Sunshine is my best friend. -- That's a bit clunky, but something that brings us around to her fear of loosing Sunshine.

    I like the opening scene of your 2nd chapter, but I do think your first line/paragraph could be more active and pull us in more. As is, it's very passive. Maybe something about how Blessen feels about first period. Maybe this is her favorite class and since its the first, she'll have a chance to ask teacher about missing eggs. Anything this is a nitpick. Love the prompts of the day. Great stuff!

    This has come a long way, and you've done a great job. Thanks so much for sharing with us.


  2. This workshop has transformed my opening and makes me ready to revise the whole story. It's hard work, but necessary and good. Thanks so much for your support and the nitpicks are exactly what I need right now. I hope we can stay in touch.

  3. Okay, take two. I just left my comments and they didn't take.

    I love the opening, now! You've really nailed the flow and pace here. I can see kids reading this and wanting to know more. The place you've decide to insert the information about Blue is spot on. The little you say is just enough to allow the reader a peek into Blessen's insides, who she really is. That is so good.

    Small notes: You mention that she puts Sunshine down. Then, when the bus suddenly shows up, Blessen talks about 'still carrying Sunshine like a football.'

    The brief conversation with her momma makes sense to me now. The revisions you've made to it give me a sense of the relationship between the two, but also shows me more of who your MC is. Nicely done! I also really like the details you've included about 4-H and her Pawpee. This is really good, brief and simple.

    Your transition from chapter one to chapter two is intriguing as well. I can see a younger reader wanting to know what this part is all about. You've worked so hard during these revisions. Bravo! It's been a pleasure reading your work. Thank you. Best of luck with the rest of Blessen and Sunshine's story!

  4. Margaret,
    Nice job! You’ve made wonderful revisions to clarify without losing that lovely voice and dialogue.

    I definitely get a better sense of the tension around the missing egg. I wonder if you could add a line in the first paragraph about what the eggs mean to her – are they her own beautiful thing? A sign that her beloved hen is okay? So tasty to eat? Good to sell? Why are they so special?

    Also in the first paragraph, I kept tripping over the “usually” – she usually finds an egg, which immediately tips me off that she doesn’t always find one. What if you said, “every day since last May…” or something like that?

    This is small, but consider “still carrying Sunshine in a football hold” to avoid the repetition of “hold.”

    I like the chapter end, tying the loss of Blue to Blessen’s worry about Sunshine.

    I kind of miss the sassy girl on the bus with the say-so boyfriend, but am hoping she appears later on. ☺

    Overall, really great work on this. Good luck!

  5. Margaret - Wow! Thank you for letting me be part of this process. Your opening is so different from where it started. I feel like you've really found your voice. I love moving Blue up so that we get a sense of the importance of Sunshine's missing egg.

    I also really love this line in particular: "I kiss Momma’s flower-scented cheek. She smells just like her name, Gardenia LeFluer." It's an absolutely brilliant way to give us her mother's name, and information about her mother in a really concise and organic way.

    I also love that you brought Blessen's race into the story in a more natural way.

    "I watch Momma run her fingers through her straight blonde hair. I raise my hand to the mop of curls on my head. I inherited the unruly frizz of my black father. I have a hard time thinking of anything good that came from him. Well, except for my grandma, Mae Mae."

    If anything, I'd challenge you here to continue pushing that. This still feels a little abrupt. I'm assuming Mae Mae is her paternal grandmother. It's conceivable that Mae Mae might have helped Blessen with her hair. There are differences in the care of european hair versus black hair, and Blessen's mother might have sought help from Mae Mae, which would be a good way to introduce Blessen's race in a less abrupt way.

    Overall, this is really fantastic. You've transformed this opening, and it's amazing. Best of luck with the rest of the story!

    1. Thanks so much! This workshop has done wonders for my opening. I do have a scene with Mae Mae and Blessen's hair that I could move up, but I don't think we can put everything into the first five pages. I am glad that you thought of that as being a way to show their relationship. The scene is quite sweet.

  6. Dear Margaret,

    Thanks for letting me view your story. It is very sweet in nature and tone. I like how you use subtlety in your descriptions such as "shiver runs up my spine. Come to think of it..." It clues the reader in that something is a miss, and gently tells us that your MC might have messed up in some way. I also like other descriptors you use such as "I failed." "Hovering raptor" and "What kind of pet owner am I?" I love the descriptors of Momma how she smells as good as her name (the flower). You show Blessen being bi-racial in a natural way, by describing the contrast of her mother's hair to her own. I also like how we sense her father is not in the picture, and they have nothing, if not a strained relationship, by the way your MC says she didn't inherit anything good from him except Mae Mae (her grandma).

    The only thing that stuck out to me for improvements are how there was no transition between us getting to see there may be an intruder in the neighbor's house, while Sunshine was eathing breakfast "peck, peck, peck" then all of the sudden Belssen hops us the steps with Sunshine in a football hold. I was really interested in finding out more about the shadown on the neighbors porch, then we skipped to Blessen going into house for breakfast.

    I'm wondering if school is going to be an important setting in the story(?) It seems like the mystery of the missing egg, and the shadow in the neighbor's house, are two main plot indicators. Why bring the school atmosphere in so quickly? Is that where her friend and possible side-kick will be introduced? I'm just wondering.

    Overall, your main character is smart, inquisitive, and caring. She is a very likeable character with flaws (which I also like) like self-doubt and one who makes mistakes, so very relatable to kids and adults alike. Excellent start, Margaret! Best wishes for successfully placing your manuscript in the hands of a great editor or agent soon.

    ~ Tina P. Schwartz, Founder & Literary Agent, The Purcell Agency, LLC

    1. Thanks for your comments. By your comments I see that you have a handle on the conflict even though you don't really know it yet. That's what keeps readers reading. The shadow at the neighbors is a foreshadow to her sidekick who comes in later in the story. I feel it is important to build Blessen's world first. That way we can see what is being shattered or disturbed.
      I value your comments and am excited that you hear Blessen's voice.

    2. Tina,
      I'm not sure if you check back but I have a question about symbols. I want to use the egg as a symbol throughout the book. Is it more important to dive right in to action or to lay the groundwork for the symbol to actually work?

  7. The first chapter is so much stronger now, Margaret. I will look forward to chatting with you more on Sunday night.

  8. Hello Margaret! Honestly, I only have a couple minor suggestions. One is to take a slightly lighter hand with the foreshadowing of the person at the Romero house – it’s not confusing at this point, but it definitely competes with Sunshine’s missing egg for the spotlight. I’m also still struggling a bit with the end of the first chapter and the transition into that closing paragraph. The mention of Sunshine is the main segue into introducing Miss Fullilove, but it’s not the strongest segue, so if there’s a way to strengthen the connection between the paragraphs, it will smooth out the transition.

    Other than that, everything reads great to me, from the way you’ve brought in Blessen’s mother to her more pressing concerns about Sunshine’s safety. The tension has increased without muddying up the flow, and the voice stays consistently sweet and distinct as well, both hard things to do with so much revision. Lovely work! Thank you for sharing this story with us! I’ll be delighted to see where you take the rest of it.