Sunday, July 12, 2015

First 5 Pages July Workshop - Pendleton Rev 1

Melanie Pendleton
Middle Grade Contemporary
Truth, Lies, and Bucketball

There are two things I know for sure. First, reading is the worst thing in the world. It’s just too hard. Sometimes I wonder, what’s the use in trying?

But the best thing in the world is bucketball. 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 bucketball is that I invented it. It’s played with a Nerf ball and a trash can, but I call it bucketball. It sounds better than canball or trashball. It’s all I think about. I even catch myself daydreaming about it. I picture it now.

The crowd chanting my name. Me eying my target.

I tell myself, stay focused.

Then I shoot. The ball soars through the air. It goes in!

The crowd goes crazy. They gather around me. They’re about to lift me up. I am the bucketball champion…

The sound of the bell jolts me back to reality. There I go again. I come out of my daze and look around the classroom. Everyone is packing up. Too bad. I was digging that daydream.

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

I shut my geography book and stuff it 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 will 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 turn to 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 shouts to a group of eighth-graders we pass in the hall. “Good bucketball game yesterday.”

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 does it. He 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 coolly, like talking to Marcus was no problem. 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.”

“These 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 they don’t scare me. Until now. Until Higgins.

When I walk in, Higgins is writing on the board. I shake my head. He’s just so old. He’s been teaching longer than I’ve been alive. He has white hair and wears glasses. His button-up shirts look like they’ve been one too many times in the washing machine. He’s big around the middle and he always has a sour look. I figure if he is that unhappy, why doesn’t he just retire? Nobody should have to put up with his bad mood.

He stops writing for a second. He pushes up his glasses, wrinkles his nose, and chuckles. What a dork. Then he continues writing like his hand is on fire. I shake my head some more and go to my seat. Class with Higgins is going to kill me before the year is over, I just know it.

“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. I sink down in my seat hoping to stay out of sight. My luck, Higgins will call on me and make me look like a fool.

“Mr. Morris, let’s start with you.”

Great. I called that one. I reach for my book and flip through the pages. I usually manage to escape reading out loud. But this year it seems like I have a target sign on my forehead. I’m almost out of excuses.

My heart pounds like a jackhammer. What do I do? I look around the room. Everyone else is looking at their books. But I can tell they’re waiting. Listening ears are as bad as staring eyes.


  1. After last time I googled bucketball and it is a real thing, now Jerome is saying he invented it so I’m confused. If it is a made up sport it might need a new name not to be confused with the Real BucketBall.

    Eying is grammatically correct but is an odd looking word.

    Maybe when the crowd chants his name, use his name so we know who he is right away.

    I would like to see more of a description of Bucketball , which would make a crowd go wild over a nerf ball being thrown in a trash can. It seems to me it is too similar to basketball without the fancy passing and dribbling.

    You have a great middle grade voice, but the part about the dad will flip is really good. It sounds like a middle grader.

    Maybe instead of saying “I turn to see Cliff and smile. Maybe “When I see Cliff, I smile.” It just reads better.

    Great description of the eighth graders.

    If Jerome invented Bucketball and Zane likes the game so much, why does he hate Jerome so much?

    How about instead of I shake my head, just “my head shakes.”

    I like the part about the shirts being through the washing machine one too many times.

    It is odd to have two sentences start with HE. “He stops writing for a second. He pushes up his glasses,

    How often does Darcy move her eyebrows? For Jerome to notice it must be a lot.

    Higgins doesn’t seem so mean to me.

    I like the heart pounding like a jackhammer line.

    Good revision. I would just like more description of Bucketball to make it stand out as this new craze.

  2. Hi Melanie :)

    ‘I wonder’ is also a filter. It’s a sneaky one it took me a while to learn about! Just have your character wonder instead of saying that they wonder. So the sentence would be ‘It’s just too hard. What’s the use in trying?’

    Because you started with a list format, and went on to say ‘First’ I think the second paragraph should begin: ‘Second, the best thing in the world is bucketball.’

    ‘I picture it now’ is kind of awkward/abrupt. Would it work to do something like this:

    ‘I even catch myself daydream about the crowd chanting my name, of me eyeing my target as I tell myself to stay focused. Then I shoot. The ball soars….’

    Since we’re in the MC’s head I think it would work to actually slip off into the daydream like that.

    ‘I turn to see Cliff and smile’ is a filter that could be reworded ‘I smile at Cliff.’

    I still love the way the 8th graders become so much more menacing.

    ‘Class of doom’ haha

    In the paragraph ‘I always like my teachers….’ you make it sound like what Jerome is afraid of is Higgins not the class Higgins is teaching, which I assume is the case since it will involve a lot of reading. The issue with this aside from the obvious is also that it contrasts with your following description of Higgins where Jerome calls him a dork.

    I don’t think ‘No answer’ warrants it’s own line. I’d combine the line before it and after it all into one paragraph.

    ‘I’m almost out of excuses’ for what? Reading out loud? We never saw any of his past excuses though, and he’s not making any now so is he entirely out of excuses?

    ‘Listening ears are as bad as staring eyes’ – great line. I’d never thought of it that way.

  3. Love all your revisions! The game is getting clearer in my head and I love how cocky Cliff comes across, like he’s totally Mr. Awesome and I can feel Jerome shrinking a bit each time Cliff is more awesome. I like the tension you have set up there.

    I agree with E.S. that you could keep the chanting Jerome’s name in his daydream. I liked that part and it helps to cement his name into the reader’s mind.

    I agree with E.S. that the bucketball thing is still a bit confusing. I wonder if Jerome says something about how most people get confused with bucketball (shocketball) and basketball, but uses his snark to say something about how they’re different—no "one plays basketball with a nerf ball and trash cans." I loved how you explained it in the FB group. The name and explanation “shocketball (combination of soccer, hockey, basketball and baseball),” really helped. Maybe you could slip that in somewhere? Of course, these are just suggestions. You have a big thing to introduce right here off the start. The concept is already clearer than before. Just a couple little tweaks at this point. Getting all the details balanced in the beginning of a book can feel like juggling while standing on a teeter totter, right?

    Lots of great suggestions already!

    “I shut my geography book and stuff it in my backpack.” Could be simplified: I stuff my geography book into my backpack.

    “I guess that means she’s talking about me” What if you shorted that to: “Guess she’s talking about me.” Maybe that would be more conversational?

    “Dad will flip.” Could be “Dad’ll flip.” That’s probably pushing it grammar-wise, but does it sound like the way Jerome would say it?

    “Cliff asks me coolly.” You could reduce this to “Cliff asks…” I feel like you did a great job of communicating that he’s all cool through his actions.

    “But they don’t scare me. Until now. Until Higgins.” I love the way you bring out his emotion here. The only thing I might say is that “they” in “they don’t scare me” could refer to grades or to teachers.

    “why doesn’t he just retire?” You could get rid of “just” in that sentence. “Just” is one of those words we can often delete.

    “have a target sign on” You could remove “sign” and make it even punchier.

    “My heart pounds like a jackhammer. What do I do? I look around the room. Everyone else is looking at their books. But I can tell they’re waiting. Listening ears are as bad as staring eyes.” Love this!!! Love the language you use, the balance of visceral reaction with internalization and figurative language. I can feel for him, can feel his discomfort and fear. Poor guy. And I want to know what happens. Great job!!!
    (One tiny note, you used “looked” and “look” in two consecutive sentences. Maybe exchange one?)

  4. Hi Melanie,

    I believe I saw you write a status that you discovered bucketball is a real game and that you were creating a new name for it so it would be authentic. I won't address any bucketball concerns then other than to ask if it's essential for your MC to have created this game. If not, you could keep it as BB and have him make a few adjustments to the game that would make it somewhat his creation. Just a thought...

    Okay, I like the opening. Tons of MGers will relate to difficulty with reading or lack of interest. *cringes as I type this*

    To make the daydream transition a bit more fluent, try simply easing his internal thoughts into the DD such as: "I even catch myself daydreaming about it. The crowd stills on the bleachers. They chant my name. It echoes in my ears. I eye my target and will myself to focus...." (Or something like that.) Slowly up the pace and tension through his DD. This makes it more current lifelike.

    The fact that he's jolted by the bell is enough to tell the reader he's out of his daze. That doesn't need to be repeated.

    I still like your MC's voice, especially when he's thinking about his dad. That really hits home. This boy is really a good kid, who only wants to please and be accepted. I totally hear that in his voice. I absolutely love your description of the eighth graders. Haha! Totally MG. Nice job with that.

    This part: '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 they don’t scare me. Until now. Until Higgins.' The sentence about Dad is either out of place or the next one is. They way you have it 'they' refers to the previous sentence, which is about Dad. Just rework it. It will be fine after that. The thoughts are good. Also, you changed something during Jer's conversation with Darcy. It doesn't sound like he's wavering about being jealous or not of Cliff. It works. :) And as far as your last few lines - I really like them. Kind of brought me back to those days. #shivers

    It's obvious you've worked really hard over the past week. Way to go!

  5. Hi there!

    These revisions are looking better! Nice job. Here are some of my thoughts:

    First thing I’m wondering right off the bat is why is reading so hard for Jerome? He’s in sixth grade, and most sixth graders have reading down pat by then, so what about it exactly is difficult for Jerome? Is he dyslexic? I’d like to see some kind of hint from the start about why exactly Jerome thinks it’s difficult. (For example, if he IS dyslexic, you might include a line about how the letters jumble up whenever he tries to read.)

    You start with mentioning two things, and using “First” for the reading bit. I recommend you start your next listed item with “Second” to improve the flow.

    So I’m seeing from the comments that bucketball actually exists, so I definitely agree that maybe you should rename it to something else to make it authentic since Jerome is saying he made it up. The explanation helps, though, so good revision. Just needs a little more tweaking. :)

    I stand by what I said about showing us Jerome’s emotions through quick descriptions of how his emotions are physically affecting him. As is, I’m not getting any emotional connection at all in his bucketball daydream.

    I also still think it’d be much more effective for you to show us the ball going into the can with some description rather than just “It goes in!"

    I’d combine these two sentences: "I don’t know how Cliff does it. He can talk to the older kids without getting pounded” to "I don’t know how Cliff talks to the older kids without getting pounded” to improve the flow.

    "But they don’t scare me. Until now.” should read "But they didn't scare me. Until now” because now some of his teachers DO scare him, so not being scared is past tense.

    You don’t need “He’s just so old” because you make that clear int he next sentence much more effectively with “He’s been teaching longer than I’ve been alive.”

    You’ve got quite a few sentences that start the same way in a row: “HE’s just so old… HE’S been teaching… HE has white hair… HIS button-up…HE’S big…” That’s just one example, but I recommend you go through and vary up some sentence starts so they don’t become monotonous.

    I hope this helps! These revisions are definitely looking better, so keep up the great work! :)

  6. Hey Melanie,

    Good work on the revisions. Two areas that continue to trouble me are 1) the use of the word bucketball and 2) the reference from Cliff to Zane’s great game of bucketball. When I googled the name last week, I noticed that it had that little TM sign above and to the right of the name Bucketball. I did go back to check that right before I started this. I’m not a lawyer but I think you might have a problem using that name at all without the permission of the owners of the trademark. I like the name trashball but I just wonder if that name is too close to the actual name of the game.

    You worked hard and the revisions of the first few paragraphs show that effort.

    The second point is that if Jerome made up the game, it might not be so wildly popular that Zane would receive accolades for his great game.

    You definitely have the MG voice and I like Jerome. He wants to be important and be noticed.

    I agree that some idea of his problem with reading needs to be explained early on. If not dyslexia, perhaps a reading learning disability or poor eyesight.

    I love the DD scene and hope there is some way to make that and the game work out.

    And your revision of the hall scene and Higgins was really good.

    I like the revision of the entire last few paragraphs. Is Higgins now the only one to use, Mr. Morris?

    Good start. Looking forward to next week.