Sunday, August 9, 2015

1st 5 Pages August Workshop - Hartley Revision 1

Name: Erin Foster Hartley
Genre: YA Contemporary
Title: Skylar’s Kids

House passes sperm donation bill
By Dirk Stimmel, USA Today
February 12, 1997

WASHINGTON — The House passed a bill Monday limiting the number of sperm donations individuals may make for the purpose of artificial insemination, but only in cases where the donor won’t be directly involved in raising the resulting child.

Passed 398-12, the Reckless Procreation Prevention Act — otherwise known as the Skylar Webb Bill — received nearly unanimous bipartisan support from its inception. President Clinton has vowed to sign it into law immediately. On the steps of the Capital Monday evening, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Hoyle Redmond (R-Arkansas), spoke to a jubilant crowd.

“Skylar Webb’s actions were an affront to God and man alike,” he said, amid cheers. “Imagine the predicament we’d be in if other Hollywood celebrities followed in Mr. Webb’s footsteps. Thousands — if not millions — of bastard children spawned from narcissism and greed rather than God-sanctioned matrimony. Thankfully, today we can say that never again will such an abomination occur within our borders. I just pray that other countries take heed and pass similar restrictions before it’s too late.”

Last September, in the midst of a highly-publicized nervous breakdown, movie star Skylar Webb auctioned off samples of his sperm to 100 female fans. How many of these women will ultimately follow through with conception remains to be seen, but typical intrauterine insemination success rates are between 10-20%.

The current whereabouts of Skylar Webb are unknown. The first of his offspring are expected to be born mid-July.

MARCH 2015

Principal Grimes’ jagged, dingy smile is nothing if not a cautionary tale for proper dental hygiene. “Come in, Alex,” she says. I cringe at her unwelcome nickname and take a seat next to Mr. Gillespie, the drama teacher. “We’ve been discussing the school musical. Unfortunately,Hedwig and the Angry Inch is just not an acceptable choice of material.”

“I’m sorry,” Mr. Gillespie says. “I know you had your heart set on this.” A muscle ripples along his jawline as he swallows. He has large pores and a weird cleft in his chin, but he’s the school’s only gay teacher and I can’t stop obsessing over him like he’s freaking Bradley Cooper — even now when I have bigger things to focus on.

“What’s wrong with Hedwig?” I ask. “It won the Tony last year.”

“And I’m sure it was well-deserved. But a teenage boy in drag playing a transsexual rock star is going to raise more than a few eyebrows. And this being Mr. Gillespie’s first year at City High, I’d hate to see him come under fire from the PTA.” 

“I don’t care what the PTA thinks,” I say, leaning forward. “It’s not fair. This is discrimination. We’ll fight it all the way to the Supreme Court if we have to.”

Principal Grimes, clearly not appreciating my spontaneous Atticus Finch moment, pulls something from the top drawer of her desk — one of the scripts I printed out in the school library last week when I got yelled at for wasting so much paper. Its edges are adorned with a variety of neon-colored sticky notes. She flips to a yellow-marked page and clears her throat. “Hedwig climbs into the lap of an unsuspecting audience member and rhythmically thrusts her pelvis in his face, the fringe of her skirt tickling his nose. Hedwig: ‘It’s a car wash, ladies and gentlemen!’” She fans through the rest of the pages marked in green, blue, pink, and orange, and shakes her head. “There’s a fine line between provocative and vulgar. This play is about six miles east of that line.”

“We still have plenty of other options,” Mr. Gillespie says. “Jesus Christ Superstar. Or Chicago, even.”

I roll my eyes. I don’t want to play hippie disco Jesus or Richard Gere. I want to do drag, and Mr. Gillespie knows this. Why is he being such a Judas? “Could I play Roxie Hart?” I ask.

He and Principal Grimes exchange a look. “What about Cats?” she says. “You’d make a wonderful Mr. Mistoffelees.”

I stifle a shudder and focus on channeling my inner Elsa from Frozen. Let it go, let it go… Ooh, there’s an idea.

“Alex? Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” I say, but I can’t bring myself to open my eyes.  “I’ll take it into consideration.”

“Oh, wonderful. Here’s a full list of PTA-approved plays, which Mr. Gillespie really should have consulted in the first place. Let me know what you decide on by Friday. I want to announce auditions at the pep rally.”

Outside Grimes’ office, Mr. Gillespie puts his hand on my shoulder. “Again, I’m sorry,” he says. “If I wasn’t so new around here, I might have had a better chance to defend you.” At least, I’m pretty sure that’s the gist of what he’s saying. It’s hard to concentrate on anything else besides the heat from his palm seeping through the fabric of my t-shirt. I somehow manage a nod.

“Don’t worry,” he says. “Whatever we end up doing, I’m confident you’ll be spectacular.” He gives me one last atta boy smile before taking off down the hall. I’m too busy watching him go to notice my friend Mathilda approaching.

“Give it up, Blueberry,” she says, grabbing my sleeve and pulling me into the girls’ restroom. “It’s never gonna happen.”

“It could.”

“It won’t.” She hoists herself onto the counter and takes a drag from her e-cig. “You need to stop watching so much gay porn. It’s warped your sense of reality.”

“Whatever.” I stick the play list in my back pocket and make a pouty-face at myself in the mirror. I dyed my hair blue last week (hence Mathilda’s brilliant new nickname for me) but it’s already starting to fade to a greenish-gray. Not a pretty sight. “Grimes killed Hedwig, BTW.”

“Bloody ‘ell. A fucking surprise, that one is.” Mathilda watches a lot of British TV shows, and she likes nothing better than to randomly whip out her crappy Cockney accent. “Did you seriously think that was gonna fly?”

I pick up a local events magazine that someone left by the sink and flip through a few pages. “I guess I sort of expected it.”

“So what’s your plan now? I mean, besides going home to fap to Mr. Gillespie’s yearbook photo?”

I raise my middle finger at her without looking up from the magazine. “He’s not in the yearbook. Do you think I’d make a good Angel fromRent?”

“Oh, sure,” she says, exhaling a puff of vanilla-scented vapor. “If there’s one thing sexier than playing a character with a one-inch dick, it’s playing one dying of AIDS.”

“I didn’t join drama club just to get into Mr. Gillespie’s pants, you know. I actually do care about the musical.” I flip past an article on this weekend’s kombucha festival and three pages of ads for hipster used clothing stores and sub shops before my eyes catch on the following:

Thursday: Dance Party w/DJ Nate
Friday: Karaoke w/Laydee Twist
Saturday: Amateur Drag Show*

*Winners may be invited to join The Alley Cat’s Drag Troupe: THE P*SSY POSSE

“Oh, shit,” I say. “What are you doing Saturday night?”

“Working at the Pita Pit until eleven,” she says. “Why?”

I hold up the magazine. “Call in sick. We’ve got somewhere to be.”


  1. I'm completely thrown for a loop! :) I like the premise of following up on the children that resulted from this bizarre situation of a major celebrity donating sperm. It's unlike anything that I've read lately, but has some of the elements that made "The Boys from Brazil" so disturbing. As far as the writing, I do like the way you started with the press release from the 1990's to give the backstory. It's definitely not the typical way to start a book, but I like the surprise feeling of it. I'm sure that the mentors will have much more helpful feedback. I look forward to reading all of the responses again this week.

  2. Ha Erin - this one cracked me up. What a change from your first draft! Alex and Mathilda are totally OTT and I love them. Having spent quite a few of my late teen years working the doors of underground nightclubs they strike me as being very true to form and quite lovable characters.

    You do something I haven't come across in my reading to date by starting with a very ugly political premise and then leap into the muscial mahem and flamboyant teen madness. I'm still trying to figure out if this works for me or not but I may just feel uncomfortable with it because it is so new - it's something I would like to spend a bit more time reflecting on. Congratulations, I think this is an awesome revision and it resonates really well with me.

  3. Wow Erin – great job finding a new place to start! It is so hard finding the right place. I am immediately intrigued by the article. You’ve got a great hook. I also love the voice of Alex/blueberry. My one criticism would be to tighten and shorten it. There’s that great hook, and then a lot of dialogue and time spent on him not being in a musical. The first and most important question for the first 5 pages is – would a reader keep reading? The answer here is maybe. The article opening is interesting, but then there isn’t much tension. I’m not surprised a school would refuse to put on the play, and you spend too much time on his crush on his teacher.

    I would also shorten the paper to a paragraph. Sum it up. We don’t need the rep going on about his opinions. With a red pen, go in and cut everything that isn’t important to the story. You’ve nailed the voice, the hardest part, your descriptions are great, and your writing is strong in this opening too. We need to see the story question, or have some tension, sooner.

    Good luck! I can’t wait to read next week!

  4. Can I just say one thing? BRAVO!! This is absolutely brilliant! It's edgy. It makes me squirm a little bit in my seat as a mom of a teenager because I know this is the kind of talk and shinanigans that goes on with teens, but I don't see it. This is the YA contemporary that I think does well in the market because it's REAL. I have very few suggestions. I would agree that some of the articles can be shortened. I would love to get a glimpse of what the drama teacher looks like. Is he young? Saying his first year there doesn't quite imply that he is. If I picked this up, I would definitely keep reading, but of the two pieces you've submitted I don't quite know yet what his conflict it going to be. If you can give us a hint, that would be awesome. Nice job!

  5. Haha. Atticus Finch reference! I feel like we can really understand what this story is about now that you've changed the intro and I'm really excited. I love the premise with the sperm donor. Really unique!

  6. Hey Erin,
    This is a really interesting change from your first submission. I like the way you set up the beginning, it makes me wonder what's going to happen later on. I really like your characters, so good job setting them up and giving them distinct personalities right away. I do agree with Erin Cashman about maybe tightening this a bit and adding some tension or a sense of conflict. Otherwise really good job

  7. Erin, Bravo!! This is such a change from your original (which was also well-written) and it just oozes voice. There are many ways to hook a reader in your first pages and voice is one of them. For me, you nailed it. I would continue reading without hesitation. I like opening with the news article. I suggest you cut down the quote (probably starting with "Thankfully" you can cut the rest of that?) and I may actually suggest you cut out "Clinton" and just say "the president". Seeing Clinton jarred me -- is this a real bill you are going to be playing with or fiction? Without the Clinton name, we won't pause. Actually, you can probably cut that whole line without affecting the news article. I think those brief trims will still convey what you want and get us into your story that much faster.

  8. I actually love the crush on the teacher, the whole dialogue with the principal, teacher and Alex feels real as does the interaction with Alex and Mathilda. Perhaps because I recently saw Hedwig and loved it, this all worked for me! While we don't get the main story conflict/problem for Alex, by opening with the news article, I'd argue we get a very good sense of what this story is going to be about as a whole and because the voice is so good and the writing is excellent, I have no problem following these characters to learn more. If there's a story problem for Alex you can subtly work in without it feeling forced, then by all means do so. It will strengthen the pages. But this is working really well for me. You've drawn characters I like and care about--who feel real--in this very short span. This is hard to do and your work here shows. Congratulations!