Sunday, July 19, 2015

1st 5 Pages July Workshop - Pendleton Rev 2

Melanie Pendleton
Middle Grade Contemporary
Truth, Lies, and Backetball (New name)

There are two things I know for sure. First, reading is the hardest thing in the world. If I read in my head, I’m okay. But whenever I try to put letters together and say them out loud, my brain gets all jumbled up. I have to concentrate so hard on sounding out each word, I stutter and fumble and by the time I get to the end of a sentence I have no idea what the words are telling me. Talk about anxiety. Reading out loud is worse than choking during a backetball game. Which is another thing I know for sure.

Backetball is the best thing in the world. Nothing beats the sweet sound of the ball hitting the can as it goes in. Or the feeling I get when blocking the chucker from scoring on the last out of the game when my team is in the lead.

The most awesome thing about backetball is that I invented it. We play with a Nerf ball and a trash can but it’s like hockey, baseball, and basketball all rolled into one. That’s how it got the name.

I think about backetball so much I daydream about standing in the street while the crowd chants my name.

“Jerome! Jerome! Jerome!”

My heart races and my breathing echoes in my ears. Stay focused, I tell myself. I can’t get psyched out now.

I’m fighting alone so there’s no blocker. It’s just me and the can. I eye the target then I shoot. The ball soars through the air. It tips the edge and circles the rim. I suck in my breath. For a split-second, the world moves in slow motion. Then…score! The ball rolls into the can.

Everyone goes crazy. They gather around me. They’re about to lift me up. This is the proudest moment of my life. I am the backetball champion…

The sound of the bell jolts me back to reality. There I go again. I look around the classroom at everyone else packing up. Too bad. I was digging that daydream.

“Okay class,” Ms. Maguire says. “Get your continent reports on your way out.”

I stuff my geography book in my backpack.

“Some of you need to put forth more effort in your assignments…” My teacher raises one eyebrow at me as I take my paper. I guess that means she’s talking about me. I look at my paper and huff. C minus. Dad’ll flip. I can just hear the lecture I’ll get about how I didn’t do my best. Maybe he’ll believe me this time when I tell him I really did try.

I weave through the halls crammed full of students.

“Hey, Jerome.”

I see Cliff and smile. We’ve been best friends ever since first grade when he sat next to me in Mrs. Williamson’s class. My last name is Morris. Cliff’s is Murphy. Sometimes you gotta love the alphabetical order thing.

“Hey, Zane,” he calls to a group of eighth-graders we pass in the hall. “Backetball game after school today?”

The eighth-graders turn and look as we walk by. Suddenly they seem ten feet taller. Their fists are like rocks; their shoulders look like they have football pads underneath their t-shirts.

Marcus Zane is the meanest of all. He stares at us. I hear my own gulp. Then he nods one time and turns back to the other guys. I sigh in relief. In the neighborhood, we’re equal. But at school, the eighth-graders talk to eighth-graders and the sixth-graders talk to sixth-graders. I don’t know how Cliff can talk to the older kids without getting pounded. They never say anything but the all-important head nod is a surefire sign of approval.

“So where ya’ headed?” Cliff asks me. He winks at a group of girls standing at their lockers. They giggle.

“Language Arts with Higgins,” I grumble.

“Ugh! I’m lucky I didn’t get him this year. He’s tough.”

“He is.” I frown. “And he hates me.”

“He hates everyone.”

“The teachers are different this year.”

Cliff smiles. “Welcome to middle school. Good luck, buddy.” He gives me a slap on the back and runs off. I let out a huge sigh as I head to my class of doom.

I always like my teachers. I’m not the star student or the teacher’s pet but I never get in trouble. And my grades aren’t bad. Of course Dad thinks I can do better. But school has never scared me. Until now. Until Higgins. His class is going to kill me before the year is over, I just know it.

When I walk in, Higgins is writing on the board. I swear the man has been teaching longer than I’ve been alive. His hair is white, his belly is big, and he wears button-up shirts that look like they’ve been one too many times in the washing machine. And he always has a sour look. I figure if he’s that unhappy, maybe he should just retire. Nobody should have to put up with his bad mood.

Higgins pauses for a second. He pushes up his glasses, wrinkles his nose, and chuckles. Then he continues writing like his hand is on fire. I shake my head as I go to my seat.

“Hey, Jer.”

“Hey, Darcy,” I mutter.

“How’s Cliff?” She chews on the tip of her pen and grins. Her bangs cover her eyebrows so her hair shifts every time she moves them. She doesn’t seem to notice.

“You know, Cliff is Cliff.”

“Hmmmm,” she says in that sing-song voice she gets when she talks about Cliff. I roll my eyes. Sometimes girls can be weird.

“What do you see in him anyway?” I ask her.

“What are you talking about? What’s not to like? His curly hair, gorgeous green eyes, cute little dimples…”

I snort. “C’mon. You really like that mop on top of his head? Half the time it looks like he’s just been hit by lightning. And he’s so white he could glow in the dark.” I laugh at my own joke.

Darcy glares at me. “That’s not funny, Jerome. You wouldn’t think he’s your best friend by the way you talk about him. Maybe you’re jealous.” She turns away and pouts.

“That’s messed up.” I pretend to be offended but I don’t care. Cliff is the one who gets all the attention and it doesn’t bother me one bit.

“Good afternoon, class.” Higgins turns from the board at the sound of the tardy bell.

No answer.

“Today we will begin reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. You will each find a copy on your desk. I expect you all to pay attention and participate. This will be a significant part of your grade for the semester.”

Darcy raises her hand.

“Yes, Ms. Lake?”

“I’ve heard this book has bad words. Should we be reading it?”

Higgins looks pleased. “Thank you for asking. You all should be aware this book was written a long time ago when slavery was prevalent. It does contain what we consider derogatory language. But I want you to look past the language and think about what the book means. As we move forward, we’ll have many discussions about its themes as well as its historical and cultural implications.”

I groan to myself. It’s bad enough teachers make us read books. Why do we have to talk about them afterwards?

“Please turn to the first page and we’ll take turns reading out loud.”

Uh oh. I wasn’t expecting this.

13 comments:

  1. Hi Melanie,

    Again, looks like you've done a lot of revising. :) Leaving comments as I read:

    Seeing how you mention 'the first' thing at the opening of the 1st paragraph, I'd use the word 'second' at the end. Something alone the lines of: "Which is the second thing I know for sure." I think that rounds out your opening thought(s) a little tighter. Oh, and I'd use a different verb then 'chocking' in that last part. Only because you just talked about reading out loud and chocking is closely related to the mouth and throat and possibly reading.

    You've done a really nice job of explaining backetball. It's direct and concise. And the way you now ease into his daydream ... nicely done. :) Actually, the entire piece is much tighter and flows a lot better. And once again, I like the way you end the chapter.

    I wish I had more to add this time around, but you've really done a nice job. Thanks so much for the opportunity to read your work. Best of luck with it!

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    Replies
    1. Thank you Sheri for being my mentor. I appreciate all of your suggestions and encouraging words! :)

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  2. I really like the revisions you made.

    I like the description of how he has trouble reading.

    I agree with adding the word Second before he professes his love for Backetball.

    The part that says, “I eye the target then I shoot,” could be “I eye the target and shoot.” Take out the extra “I”.

    He pretends to be offended but doesn’t care, It does sound like he cares or he wouldn’t say bad things about his best friend if he wasn’t jealous.

    I like the ending about being surprised about reading aloud.

    The changes you made are great, great concept, and great voice.

    Eric

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    1. Thank you Eric, my fellow MG writer! :)

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  3. Hi there!

    These revisions are looking great! I still have some thoughts, but I think you're definitely on the right track. :)

    I know we’ve been nitpicky about bucketball/backetball but I feel like “backetball” is too close to basketball. People may think it’s a typo. Can you come up with something more original and different?

    The daydream is MUCH better! I can really picture what’s going on and feel Jerome’s nervousness as he watches the ball. Two minor tweaks:

    I’d reverse “Then…score! The ball rolls into the can” to “Then…the ball rolls into the can. Score!” This way the cause/effect moves more logically (whereas in the original you have the effect (score) before the cause (ball in can).

    I’d like to see the same kind of emotion you have in the paragraph where Jerome is holding his breath, waiting to see if the ball will go in, in the paragraph where he’s being lifted up. Right now you have “This is the proudest moment of my life. I am the backetball champion” where Jerome is TELLING us how he feels, but I think it’d be much more effective if you showed us how those emotions affect him physically and mentally like you did in the previous paragraph.

    Is there a way you could show us he wasn’t expecting to be called on rather than having Jerome just tell us? Maybe you could give us a glimpse of his panicky thoughts, or have him think about how he never gets called on or something.

    Overall, this is shaping up nicely! Great work. :)

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    Replies
    1. Thank you, Ava. I appreciate all of your wonderful suggestions!

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  4. ‘hitting the can as it goes in’ – the can is a trashcan, right? If so, I’d call it that here so we get a solid and accurate first image of the game.

    ‘That’s how it got the name’ – I’m not sure how it being a combination of ‘hockey, baseball, and basketball’ resulted in the name.

    The daydream is really smooth now!

    ‘The ball rolls into the can’ – I think you should either take this bit out, since it has already happened by the time you say it, or put it before the ‘score!’

    ‘I swear the man has been teaching longer than’ – since this is actually quite possible, maybe just say ‘The man has been teaching longer than I’ve’

    Higgin’s chuckling right after Jerome points out he has a bad attitude is kind of contradictory.

    Overall, nice job on revisions :)

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    Replies
    1. Thank you, Kalyn. I've enjoyed working with you.

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  5. You already have some great comments here. :-)

    I love the revisions. Love the way you worked in the daydream and the description of the ball game. It helps the ground the reader right away.

    “I am the backetball champion…” I wonder if you could imply his daydream gets interrupted by ending this with an emdash? I am the backetball champion—

    “ to put forth more effort…” you could delete “forth.”

    “I can just hear the lecture…” You could delete “just.”

    “Suddenly they seem ten feet taller. Their fists are like rocks; their shoulders look like they have football pads underneath their t-shirts.” Love the descriptive way you show us he’s intimidated.

    “wrinkles his nose, and chuckles.” When you describe Mr. Higgins, Jerome says he’s always in a bad mood/has a sour look to him. The chuckle could come off as cheerful. Maybe you could add to chuckles or use a different word to imply he’s laughing but Jerome thinks there’s evil intent behind it, like perhaps Higgins is planning an assignment that will make all the students fail? I guess I’m really asking why Higgins is chuckling, and how Jerome interprets it that still makes the action fit into Higgins’ overall grumpy image.

    “What are you talking about? What’s not to like?” You could cut the first question and still have the same idea.

    Great job with Jerome insulting Cliff and then saying he doesn’t care when Darcy corrects him. It’s obvious he’s jealous of Cliff, but doesn’t know it.

    It’s great when the whole class doesn’t answer Higgins. Shows Jerome isn’t the only one intimidated.

    I like how you first have him dreading the book discussion and then the reading aloud thing hits him hard. Great job making your opening line reflect this line!

    I really like this! Such a fun book. Have you read Tangerine? My daughter’s 7th grade class read it this year. I think this has a slightly similar vibe. Maybe you’ll be required reading for 7th graders someday. :-)

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  6. Thank you, Jennifer. I appreciate your suggestions and the book recommendation. I'll definitely look into it!

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  7. Hi Melanie,

    Good work, Jerome’s thought’s on reading are right on target. I like the name backetball. And his daydream sequence fits perfectly after those first two paragraphs.

    Glad you changed the line from Cliff to Zane so that he’s going to play backetball.

    I like that you’re setting up conflict between Jerome and his dad and Jerome and Cliff. All the main characters are here.

    Your revisions have covered the issues that I had earlier.

    Julie

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  8. Hi Melanie,

    You have a great voice for middle grade, and Jerome seems like he has the potential to be a fun, layered character! The way that Jerome weaves in and out of concerns about reading and basketball does a nice job of giving us a sense of how his mind works.

    I would really encourage you, though, to avoid starting with a daydream. This is a "fake-out" opening, like starting with a dream and having the protagonist wake up. We think we're learning something about the main character, but actually it's all in his head. I think these kinds of first pages run the risk of frustrating your reader, and potentially losing them. Why not start with something that's actually happening in the real world?

    My other concern is that these pages feel a bit meandering to me, in that by the end of them I'm not sure what the conflict of this story is, or quite what kind of novel it will be. Remember that your opening pages are setting your reader's expectation for the book -- it's important that every sentence here is conveying crucial information about character, plot, or setting (or more than one). To that end, I wonder if there's some things here you could pare back, especially in some of the more small-talk-ish dialogue, like the conversation with Darcy about Cliff, which goes on for quite a while, but I'm not sure it pushes the story forward.

    The last thing that I would encourage you to do is read your dialogue out loud -- does it sound natural, like the way that read people speak? Some of these lines are reading a bit stilted to me. (For example, “Thank you for asking. You all should be aware this book was written a long time ago when slavery was prevalent. It does contain what we consider derogatory language." My sense is that even the most crabby teacher would speak a bit more loosely than this.)

    I hope that's helpful feedback, although keep in mind that these notes (like all workshop comments) are of course subjective, and you should only take those that resonate with you. Great work in being brave enough to put your writing out there -- workshops like this are an awesome way to strengthen your work!

    All best,
    Patricia Nelson
    Marsal Lyon Literary Agency

    ReplyDelete
  9. Hi Melanie,

    You have a great voice for middle grade, and Jerome seems like he has the potential to be a fun, layered character! The way that Jerome weaves in and out of concerns about reading and basketball does a nice job of giving us a sense of how his mind works.

    I would really encourage you, though, to avoid starting with a daydream. This is a "fake-out" opening, like starting with a dream and having the protagonist wake up. We think we're learning something about the main character, but actually it's all in his head. I think these kinds of first pages run the risk of frustrating your reader, and potentially losing them. Why not start with something that's actually happening in the real world?

    My other concern is that these pages feel a bit meandering to me, in that by the end of them I'm not sure what the conflict of this story is, or quite what kind of novel it will be. Remember that your opening pages are setting your reader's expectation for the book -- it's important that every sentence here is conveying crucial information about character, plot, or setting (or more than one). To that end, I wonder if there's some things here you could pare back, especially in some of the more small-talk-ish dialogue, like the conversation with Darcy about Cliff, which goes on for quite a while, but I'm not sure it pushes the story forward.

    The last thing that I would encourage you to do is read your dialogue out loud -- does it sound natural, like the way that read people speak? Some of these lines are reading a bit stilted to me. (For example, “Thank you for asking. You all should be aware this book was written a long time ago when slavery was prevalent. It does contain what we consider derogatory language." My sense is that even the most crabby teacher would speak a bit more loosely than this.)

    I hope that's helpful feedback, although keep in mind that these notes (like all workshop comments) are of course subjective, and you should only take those that resonate with you. Great work in being brave enough to put your writing out there -- workshops like this are an awesome way to strengthen your work!

    All best,
    Patricia Nelson
    Marsal Lyon Literary Agency

    ReplyDelete