Sunday, October 18, 2015

1st 5 Pages October Workshop - Cushing Revision 2

Name: Emily Cushing
Genre: Middle Grade Adventure


With her parent’s bank account drained, twelve-year-old Maggie McCoy and her family will be forced to move away from the prestigious Renaissance Academy of Arts and back to her former, bully-ridden school. So when Maggie gets the chance to go on a cross-country trip with her Grandpa Jim and cousin Jake to search for gold hidden by infamous bank robber Butch Cassidy, she jumps on the bandwagon, or in this case, a beat-up Winnebago.

Less than two hours into the trip, Maggie’s worried she’s made a mistake. The perfect adventure she envisioned crumbles in the face of reality with cousin Jake’s “anger bursts”—a side effect of his parent’s divorce. But with her home on the line, Maggie is determined to find the treasure, even after they discover dangerous thieves are also after it.

With only each other to rely on, Maggie and Jake must decipher clues about Butch’s life to solve the mystery. Because this just may be Maggie’s last chance to save the home and life she loves.

A middle grade adventure complete at 50,000-words, RACE TO BUTCH CASSIDY’S GOLD follows both present-day Maggie McCoy and the legend of Butch Cassidy until mystery and history collide.

First Five Pages:

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 seven little words something terrible is coming.

So tonight when they motioned to the couch and asked me to sit 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 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 rubbed his short beard and rested both palms on the glass kitchen counter he had hand-blown. “There’s something important we need to tell you.” 

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 pulled her hair into a messy bun, securing it with a pencil. “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 and 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 was supposed to attend Renaissance Academy in the fall—one of the best art schools in Missouri. I was one of only 50 seventh graders who had been accepted to their six-year program. 

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 in fifth grade when I was going through my “cowgirl phase” and was completely obsessed with all things old West-y. When my school held an art competition to draw, paint, or sculpt a historical figure, I chose Butch Cassidy, famous outlaw of the Wild West. As part of my character study, Grandpa Jim gave me the special binder of famous Americans Grandma June had made when she was alive. I read all sorts of facts and stories about Butch from her book. 

After a month of studying his life and taking sculpting lessons from Dad, I completed my sculpture of Butch riding his getaway horse with sacks of stolen loot hanging off the side. I knew I had the contest in the bag and the first place prize, a new bike, was all mine. In fact, on the way out the door that morning, Mom patted me on the back and said, “You’ve got this, kiddo.”

When I arrived at the bus stop, Harriet eyed my sculpture and rolled up her poster of Justin Bieber. “What artsy fartsy thing did you make?” 

Everyone at the bus stop laughed. I swallowed. “It’s Butch Cassidy.”

Harriet rolled her eyes. “Never heard of him.”

“He was a famous outlaw,” I stammered, but she and her friends had already turned their backs. I moved closer to the bus stop so I could hurry onto the bus once it arrived. 

Just as the bus pulled up, there was whispering and laughter behind me. And then a shove. A hard, deliberate shove that sent my sculpture of Butch flying out of my hands and into the gutter, where it broke into a hundred pieces. 

Not one person stopped to help me pick up my broken sculpture. They just stepped over or around me as they got onto the bus. 

That one incident pretty much summed up my entire life in the city. 

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 crazy because their sculptures are crazy 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 back the stool and stood. "In fact, you’re the ones that don’t have to worry. Because will figure out a way for us to stay.” I marched to my room and slammed the door. My 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’m going to find Butch Cassidy’s hidden gold coins! 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. 
Grandma June’s Famous Americans binder says Butch hid gold coins somewhere in Utah and gave clues to his family leading them to where the coins might be, but they’ve never been found.

It’s a total long shot, but we only have 18 days, so it’s worth a try. The coins have got to be worth a ton, which means we’ll never have to leave Hollister. Ever.


  1. This keeps getting tighter, Emily. Great job. First, the revision. Good. The "sit down" joke keeps getting tighter. Good. The "why" of not wanting to leave feels clearer but the busted sculpture story is a bit of an expositional dump in the middle of Chapter 1 and we still don't know WHY these kids are so mean in the first place--this feels flat and undeveloped. I feel like we need to go deeper into that. What is the "weird" that made Maggie an outcast in the city school and why is it accepted (or isn't a problem) in Hollister? The "cowgirl phase" as a way to introduce Butch Cassidy and get a whole notebook full of related info feels a little bit set up. I feel like the answer is to really do some deep character homework on Maggie so you, as writer, know all these answers and then don't worry so much about explaining it all in chapter 1. I imagine this feels like a bit of a contradiction to my previous comments but, as I think about this manuscript, I realize that what you're honing here may be more like the SECOND FIVE pages. Maybe what we need is an opening scene with Maggie and maybe Jake establishing their relationship and SHOWING, through action and dialogue, some of the things you're telling here. Then, Mom and Dad call Maggie and dump the problem but we're hearing it in the context of knowing something special about Maggie already, which might offer more of an emotional connection for readers. The PITCH LETTER has a lot of levels. Renaissance Arts Academy, Jake's issues, thieves, a "bully ridden" school, a Winnebago. It feels a bit too dense. I'd try combining PPs 2 & 3 and focusing more narrowly on Maggie and the most central plot lines. Keep up the great work!

  2. This is Erin posting for Saba:

    Your opening two paragraphs are a little too similar — how about starting with the line “You don’t actually have to be sitting to hear bad news”? It’s snappy and makes the protagonist sound smart and interesting.

    In general, I’ve seen many YA and MG manuscripts open with the parents telling their child that they’re about to move to another town, or to another school, so I’m afraid that this scene may not be the best way to being your book. How about starting with Maggie looking for a map, or planning her search for Butch Cassidy’s gold in earnest, without bringing out her devastation that she’s moving. We can find that out later, perhaps as she explains her expedition to her cousin? Or in some other way — in short, this opening feels a little unoriginal, and I encourage you to approach your opening from a different angle altogether.

    Otherwise, for what you’ve written, you’ve done a nice job of fitting in backstory seamlessly, and of keeping us with Maggie as she learns the bad news she so desperately wants to avoid.

    A note on your pitch: It looks pretty good! I’d be more specific about who these dangerous thieves are, but otherwise, it’s got everything it needs.

    Of course, my views are super subjective, so I wouldn’t take anything I say here as Gospel necessarily. Another agent, even at my own agency, could feel entirely differently about this sample. But you’re already on the right track, just by virtue of putting your work out there — keep workshopping this (and your future) projects, and I have no doubt that you will continue to improve your writing craft.

    I hope this helped!

    My best,

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  5. Hi Emily,

    It's so great to see the leaps and bounds we've all made during this workshop. Yours just keeps getting better. As for my opinion about how you would change it, I would definitely go with Saba's advice. Afterall, she is an agent who sees hundreds of manuscripts and knows what will set yours apart.

    I did feel like your query could be improved. The first line of your query should be a punch, ya know, something that will make the agent keep reading. I didn't get that from your first line. And I think you could omit the first sentence of the 2nd paragraph and just start with "The perfect adventure...".

    Good luck and may your manuscript find its way to print some day.

  6. Hi Emily!


    I really like your query. I think it captures the voice of your story really well. I also love the lines about the Winnebago and the collision of history and mystery. My only recommendation would be maybe clarifying the opening line. The part about the Renaissance Academy is a little confusing, and I'd consider maybe saying something like budding artist Maggie will have to give up her spot at the arts academy that she desperately wants to attend and return to her old bully-ridden school.


    I agree with the earlier comment about the beginning being a little repetitive when it comes to the sit-down and the fact that Maggie doesn't want to hear what her parents have to say - it can probably be reduced to a single paragraph instead of two. Otherwise, I think your revisions are great - I love all of the descriptions; I think you've done a really good job describing her parents and Maggie's feelings. I think the anecdote about Maggie's Butch Cassidy art piece might be a little long, and I'd consider maybe whittling it down a little to keep the pacing in line with the rest of the story. And this is just a personal preference, but I think I preferred your previous revision where you mention Harriet breaking Maggie's ukulele - I just really loved that detail :) Overall, I think you've done a terrific job with the descriptions, the voice, and the story - I feel like they're all spot-on for middle grade!

    Great job!


  7. Hi Emily

    I really like the content you added. The story line is clear and the characters are really beginning to resonate.

    The query sounds great. Interesting details but not overdone. These are subjective though, so I would take in everything being said here and combine with your own research. But in my opinion, it sounds great.

    You have a fun story and characters here. I wish you the best of luck with this project and thank you for all of your comments on mine.

  8. Hi Emily,

    My first thought when reading your query was that it doesn’t sound like the trip to search for gold happens at Maggie’s instigation. I think her decision to go treasure hunting shows one of the more compelling parts of her character, and that’s missing from the picture of her we get in the query. She seems more passive.

    I think your writing is very good – smooth, polished, lots of sensory detail, and most importantly Maggie’s voice shines through. I don’t have anything to add to what others have already said. I’m confident that your writing is good enough to make it into print, if you use it to craft a compelling story. Good luck!