Sunday, October 11, 2015

1st 5 Pages October Workshop - Cushing Revision 1

Name: Emily Cushing

Genre: Middle Grade Adventure


June 1st 

Whenever Mom and Dad point to the couch and say, “Sit down, Maggie, we need to talk,” I’m like, Please, no. Because I know when I hear those six little words something terrible is coming.

Bad Things I’ve Learned at Sit Downs:

1. Grandma June died. Not only did we share the middle name “Maria”, but also a love of Hungarian goulash, a knack for winning card games, and an obsession with historical figures.  

2. We weren’t going to Graceland over Christmas break to visit the house of Elvis Presley—one of only two rock stars on my list of “Top 50 Famous People I Would Have Loved to Meet.”

3. I wasn’t getting a metal detector for my birthday. Mom and Dad said it just wasn’t in the budget. How cool would that have been to explore the gully with Bandit (the stray dog we’ve adopted) searching for hidden treasures? 

4. Aunt Lori and Uncle Rick were getting divorced. Super sad for my cousin Jake.

So tonight when my parents pointed to the couch and told me to sit down I was like, “I don’t think so.” I knew what they were up to and I refused to play that game. I figured if we weren’t sitting then we couldn’t have a Sit Down.

Guess what?

I was wrong.

You don’t have to actually be sitting to hear bad news. Even if you’re standing (and even if it’s in the kitchen—super far from the couch), they still tell you.

Dad rested both palms on the kitchen counter and leaned in. “There’s something important we need to discuss.” 

I jumped into panic mode. They were moving forward with the Sit Down even though I had refused to sit. I needed a Plan B. Fast. I hummed loudly and scanned the kitchen for anything that might stop him from talking. My eyes landed on a bag of microwave popcorn. Maybe if I couldn’t hear him, he wouldn’t be able to tell me. I opened the microwave, threw in the popcorn, and slammed the door, loudly punching each button as I turned it on.  

Mom cleared her throat. “Maggie, please listen.”
I scrunched my face, cupped my ear, and shook my head. “What? Can’t hear you.” I pointed at the microwave. “Popping noises. Too loud.” 

Dad’s mouth formed a straight line and Mom folded her arms. “We can wait,” she said.

“All night,” Dad added.    

I sighed and hit the stop button on the microwave. “Fine.” I slumped onto a wobbly wooden stool. “Let me have it.”

I held my breath and waited. Dad glanced at Mom and she gave me one of those you-know-we-love-you-but-this-is-going-to-hurt smiles. “It just hasn’t worked out, Sweetie. We’re going to have to move back to the city.”

My chest tightened and my eyes darted to Dad, hoping he’d say it wasn’t true, but his shoulders dropped. “I talked to my old boss at the accounting firm and they have a position opening up on June 19th.” 

I bit down on my bottom lip. I focused on the colorful photos on the refrigerator, trying to hold back tears. This could not be happening. Not now. Grandpa Jim just hung a tire swing in our backyard, Jake and I had summer passes to Wild Waves Waterpark, and I had drama class with my two BFF’s in the fall. Plus, Dad would have to go back to his old job. Which meant I could kiss eating chocolate chip ice cream with him before bed and spontaneous weekend trips to the lake goodbye. I didn’t want to go back to that busy city life and Dad’s crazy job. Especially since Jake told me, “My dad was gone a lot for work, too. Then one day he was gone for good.” I couldn’t imagine Dad divorcing Mom or leaving us, but Jake said that’s what he used to think about his dad, too.

But the very worst part about returning to my old school in the city was bullies like Harriet Nerdin. I hated Harriet, but even more I hated myself for never standing up to her. Like the time she stole all of my Halloween candy. Or when she cut the strings on the ukulele I had made for music class. Or when she dropped my handmade Christmas ornament out the classroom window and laughed as it shattered into a million pieces—I kept quiet, too afraid to do anything. As hard as I tried, I never really fit in in the city. I didn’t even have to try to fit in here.

One of the greatest days ever was last summer when we moved to Hollister—the best small town this side of the Mississippi—and Mom and Dad started the whole one-year experiment to see if they could get a commission for their sculpting. 

Commission: when an artist gets paid to sculpt. 
Super big deal for them. Super good move for me. But they still haven’t gotten a commission, which is cray-zee because their sculptures are cuh-razy good. 

I shifted my eyes from the fridge and stared at my parents. “I’ll give back my Snap Cam.” It was a camera like those old fashioned-y ones that gives you the picture right after you take it. I had been begging for one for months and they finally gave me one yesterday for sixth grade graduation.

Mom shook her head. “It won’t help, Sweetheart.”

I puffed out a large breath of air. “Well then, what can I do?”

Dad reached for my hand. “There’s really nothing you can do, Maggie.” He squeezed. “Just try not to worry, we’ll take care of it.”

Heat flushed through my body and I pulled my hand away. "Of course I’m going to worry and of course I’m going to try to help us stay. I’m not a baby—I’m twelve. I can come up with good ideas, too." I pushed the stool back and stood. "In fact, you’re the ones that don’t have to worry. Because I will figure out a way for us to stay.” I marched to my room and slammed the door. My seventh grade class schedule for next year flew off my magnet board and onto the floor. I crumpled it, opened my bedroom door, and threw it into the hallway. “I guess I won’t be needing this anymore!”

I have to find a way for us to stay. I just don’t know how. Ugh!

What am I going to do?

June 2nd 

I know what I’m going to do! 

I didn’t leave my room once last night. Which seemed like a good idea until my belly ached with hunger and my bladder felt like it might explode. But it gave me the chance to formulate a plan. 

It's a total long-shot, but we only have 18 days, so it's worth a try. We need money. Now.

When Grandma June died last fall, Grandpa Jim gave me her Famous Americans binder full of facts, pictures, and stories of great Americans. I flipped through it until I found him:


Famous outlaw of the Wild West.

Held up banks and trains all over Utah, Idaho, and Colorado with his gang, The Wild Bunch. 

Like Robin Hood—stole from the rich to give to the poor (better fact check this one).

Hid gold coins somewhere in Utah. 

Gave clues to his family leading them to where the coins might be, but they’ve never been found.

I’m going to find Butch Cassidy’s hidden gold. It's gotta be worth a ton, which means if we can find it, we’ll never have to leave Hollister. Ever.


  1. Hi Emily,

    This revision is great. I liked the first line before, but now it is even better. I still think the first list could be moved further down into the story. For me, it takes away from it and I immediately want to know why her parents need them to sit down and the list bogs it down with information I don't need yet. Of course, that's just me and I appear to not be into lists in a story, where others like them.

    But after the list it really flowed and I got into it. I could sympathize with her and really felt why she was upset, which was missing before. By the end was excited to read how she was going to get Butch Cassidy's gold.

    Great job!

  2. Hi Emily,

    Thanks for sharing your revision with us!

    You've made some big changes here, and I think they've really paid off. The story is much easier to follow, and the voice is coming through more cleanly. We have an active scene right away and Mom and Dad are starting to seem like real people. Well done!

    As far as next steps go, I think there are a few things to tweak here:

    1. The first list slows down the pace because it is backstory. It's a clever way to integrate backstory, but it's a little hard to take in right then as a reader. Either the list needs to be shorter, or it needs to relocate. I think that at first, we will sympathize with her reluctance to have a sit-down without knowing EXACTLY why. That list could come in later in this chapter, to really show us WHY after we've become curious.

    2. Mom and Dad read a bit like stock characters. What do they look like? How do they dress or act that is unique? Parents in MG need to be interesting characters as well, so that's an area you could bring a little more uniqueness to the story.

    3. While we can follow the opening easily now, I still want the story to have a fresh flavor right from the start to stand out from other MGs. We can see the scaffolding a bit here: Problem presented in first entry, solution presented in second entry. It reads a little like an unsurprising setup. Could Butch Cassidy and Grandma be more a part of this character's world view from early on? I could see a kid being obsessed with gold and Butch Cassidy. I could imagine a line like: "Butch Cassidy wouldn't have taken this sitting down. He would've struck of and forged his own way!" or some such. Basically, now that you have a structure for this opening, push yourself as to how this character's situation is unique so that we the reader will be charmed enough to keep reading. Without a more unique hook (moving is quite common), we will need the voice and characterization to sing. Otherwise, you can also consider tweaking your circumstances. While the sculpture-building is unique, it's also a little hard to they live in an art commune? Is the city a BAD PLACE, philosophically? What does this move symbolize? A twist of the circumstances could also present a fresh flavor to your story.

    Thank you again! Well done!

    Melanie Conklin
    First Five Mentor

  3. Thanks for the great feedback on my entry. I do have a question for Alicia, Melanie, or anyone else who reads it. I'm thinking of moving my first list. If I move it somewhere else, do you think it belongs in the first five pages, and if so, where? If not, do you think I should just get rid of that list and only keep the important information by dispersing it throughout the narrative? Thanks for your help!

  4. Definitely much better, Emily! I W/r/t your list question, above, I think you can just cut it. It's great character work but it's backstory or material you cover elsewhere. I know it's tough to cut stuff--especially stuff that still has funny, lighthearted quality in its own right--but if it doesn't serve the bigger story, it's time to just move this list into a "save just in case" file. Moving on...the Harriet Nerdin paragraph feels very expositional and the "I never fit in" in the city, while I see that you're trying to explain the country vibe, feels generic (you could apply that phrase to almost any MG character in any text) and doesn't bring me any closer to Maggie. HOW didn't she fit in? Did it have to do with her love of Butch Cassidy? HOW is the country a much better place? WHAT made the country better so she doesn't want to leave it? Although you don't have an actual list, the PP beginning with fridge photo feels like a list all the same--so many reasons to stay in no particular order of priority. Again, this is great character work but what we probably want here are the 1 or 2 MOST important reasons Maggie wants to stay--reasons that show readers some truth about who Maggie really is (or who she is trying to be). An exercise that might help is if you imagine you're telling/explaining your story to an agent. What do you SAY and what do you SKIP as you're trying to hook the pro? (e.g., the whole cousin divorce thing feels extraneous in ch. 1 and I bet you wouldn't mention it in if you had 5 minutes to try to jazz someone about the story; if the story is about Maggie and not Butch Cassidy, you're probably not going to tell agent a list of Butch facts either). Try this exercise in front of a mirror or, even better, with a trusted friend and see if you're able to clarify the energy of Chapter 1. Good Luck! It feels to me that you're getting closer to a fantastic first chapter. Be fearless, keep asking WHAT, WHY, HOW and you'll get there!

  5. Hi Emily,

    Very good revision! The inciting incident is now a full scene. Maggie’s voice is strong.

    I don’t have much to add to what has already been noted, except that Maggie still seems a little younger to me, like 10 or 11. And when she uses words like “cray-zee” in this draft it seems to clash a bit with the more serious tone. I’d hate for you to lose Maggie’s fun, informal voice, though – maybe it was just the spot “cray-zee” appeared in the story that seemed off.

    Also, to echo comments above, I’d love for her to have some prior fascination with Butch Cassidy. I think that would provide a believable motivation for choosing this quest, as well as add a fun quirk of character (and partially help explain why she feels at home in the country and not the city).

    Very fun, and I look forward to the next draft!

  6. Hi Emily,

    Good job with the revision. The voice really comes through now. Her problem becomes more real and I feel I can see her more as a character.

    I think using the journal entries can be a useful and fun tool. However, a little way after the fist sentence and the list of Bad Things, the story moves to more of a first person narrator. The narrator voice is great. But it wouldn't be a journal entry written like that. Perhaps if you had a way to offset the entries from the exposition they could really add to the character and reveal backstory in a concise way. They could be part of an illustration.

    I agree with Anthony about the character's age and her voice. If she is going into 7th grade she will be about 12 going on 13. She can certainly have a fun personality and enjoy saying goofy words; I still do. What if the treasure was a lost pice of artwork? We could buy into her knowing a ton about art and art history from her parents.
    Hope this helps. Again, you made some great strides with the revision.


  7. Hi Emily!

    I think you did a great job with your revision. It keeps everything that made the first version great (the journal entries, the lists, the voice in general) and builds upon it. I loved the scene you added with the parents describing the sit-down - especially the part where she starts to make popcorn so she can't hear them. I also liked the addition of the part where Maggie describes how she was bullied - her poor ukulele! Again, it's a great anecdote that helps us understand the stakes and why Maggie doesn't want to move.

    The only suggestions I can think of are pretty minor. The first is the part where she mentions Jake's dad leaving. I get that Maggie is worried that her parents might get divorced if her dad goes back to his job, but I think the transition showing her thought process could be a little smoother. The other is the line "Super big deal for them. Super good move for me." I remember liking the placement of it better in the first version. Here, it kind of stands out, and makes me wonder if it interrupts the flow a little bit. Finally, I think I would just say "our dog, Bandit" instead of the "stray dog we adopted." But other than that I can't really think of anything else - you've done a great job with your revision!


  8. Hi Emily!

    WOW! I can't even believe this is the same story! You've done a great job revising and I was engaged all the way through. You've added so much more description and hints at backstory and we know immediately what her goal is. SUPER job!

    If you want to keep the journal entries, you might consider using them as your chapter beginnings, offset by a different font for clarification. They could be short and sweet if you like. For example, your first chapter could go something like:

    June 1

    Today was the worst day of my life.

    Then move right into the narrative. If you use the journal entries this way, it might be fun. I think you could end the chapter on "What am I going to do?" then the transition to chapter two is flawless with another journal entry.

    Chapter Two

    June 2

    I know what I'm going to do so we don't have to move!

    Then back to narrative.

    Shorter chapters can work well here, especially in the beginning.

    I love what you've done so far and I think you're on the right track!