Sunday, October 4, 2015

1st 5 Pages October Workshop - Jacobs

Name: Elisa Jacobs
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Title: A Better Shape

If I closed my eyes, I could still hear it, loud and clear. It was a popping sound, like the crack of a knuckle, or the snap of a rubber band. I would be eating lunch, or brushing my teeth, when all of a sudden: POP. In a way, the sound was worse than the pain that followed. I could deal with the pain, and if it became unbearable, there were pills I could take. But there was nothing I could do to drown out the popping sound that echoed in my head.

When I mentioned this to my psychologist, Dr. Levy, she said that I was still processing the memories related to my so-called traumatic experience.

“What is there even left to process at this point?” I asked as I sank into the taupe couch in her office. Everything in her office was beige except for the magenta orchid on her desk. I couldn't decide if the lack of color was calming or depressing. “We’ve already rehashed what happened, and the story never changes.” The score was tied. I was running down the field with the ball when a player from the opposing team slide tackled me. I heard my ACL pop, and my knee quickly gave out from under me. The next thing I knew, I was lying facedown on the cold, spiky grass. “My body failed me. End of story.”

Dr. Levy studied me as she adjusted her dark-rimmed glasses. “It’s not about changing the story, Hannah, it’s about changing your emotional response to it.”

Even though I had been seeing Dr. Levy for almost a month, I still didn’t understand how talking about my feelings was supposed to help my rehabilitation. Someone hadn’t bullied me, a 140-pound girl had tackled me.

Dr. Levy gazed down at her yellow notepad. “You mentioned that your body failed you. Do you feel like a failure, Hannah?”

I shrugged. It was kind of hard not to feel like a failure. Back in October, a school in San Diego had made me a verbal offer to join its Division I team, which I had readily accepted. A couple schools had shown interest in me, but I had wanted San Diego from the get-go and they had wanted me. It was perfect. Until it wasn’t. A week after I tore my ACL, San Diego reneged on its offer, citing “concern over my recovery.” When I found out, I couldn’t get out of bed for two days.

“You know, Hannah, it’s not uncommon for athletes to become depressed after experiencing a significant injury.”

I crossed my arms over my chest. “I am not depressed. Not being able to play soccer has just been...” I paused, struggling to find the right words, “an adjustment.” I started playing soccer when I was five. My mom had initially signed me up for ballet lessons, but when it became clear that I couldn’t stand still long enough to plié, she exchanged my ballet slippers for cleats, and signed me up for youth soccer. After I scored my first goal, I was hooked.

Dr. Levy nodded. “Do you still feel like your friends don’t understand what you’re going through?”

I glanced down at the floor. “I guess,” I muttered. I had met my two best friends playing soccer. Hayley Johnson and I were on the Killer Bees when we were in second grade, and a year later, Emily Garcia and I both played for the Shooting Stars. Granted, the three of us didn’t become best friends until a few years later, but I liked to think that soccer that had brought us together.

In the days following my surgery, Em and Hayley came over daily to play stupid board games and watch bad reality TV with me. But after a while, I started to resent their attempts to buoy me up. I didn’t want to hear Hayley drone on about the “drama” surrounding the school play, and I didn’t want to hear Em’s take on the latest student government scandal. So I began making up excuses when they asked if they could come over. I’d tell them that I was tired, or that I had a doctor’s appointment.

Dr. Levy looked out the window and thought for a moment. “You know, Hannah, I’ve been thinking that you might benefit from group therapy sessions.”

I sat up. “Like with other injured athletes?”

“Well, no, you’d be joining a group of other teens who are struggling with various issues, like depression or anxiety.”

I pictured myself sitting in a circle with the types of kids you see on the covers of those “Troubled Teen” pamphlets. I frowned. “I already told you that I’m not depressed, and now you want me to hang out with a bunch of cutters, drug addicts, and anorexics?”

She pursed her lips together and let out a sigh. “You’d be surprised, Hannah. Group therapy can be very helpful for people who feel isolated. It can be hard when you feel like your friends and family don’t fully understand what you’re struggling with.”

I gazed down at the robotic, hinged knee brace that hugged my leg. I already had my own sob story to contend with, I didn’t need to hear a bunch of strangers tell theirs. One was more than enough. “Thanks,” I said, “but I think I’ll pass.”  

That night at dinner, my mom asked me if I wanted ice cream for dessert. Whenever my mom suggested that we eat ice cream, it was a sign that she wanted to “talk.” I first noticed this when my parents split up. When my mom told me that she and my dad were going to couples therapy, she took out a pint of mint chocolate chip. When my parents told me that they had decided to separate, there was a half-gallon container of cherry vanilla on the table. And when they announced that they were getting a divorce, I was halfway through a bowl of butter pecan.  

I guess my mom thought that ice cream would soften the blow or something. At this point, I was surprised I could still eat the stuff.

As my mom took a carton of Rocky Road out of the freezer, I wondered what it would be this time. Hopefully she wasn’t planning on telling me that she’d “met someone.” My mom hadn’t dated since my parents’ divorce, and I was more than okay with it.

She took two bowls out of the cabinet and placed them on the kitchen table. “So, how are you doing?”'

I shrugged my shoulders. “I’m fine.”'

“Is there anything you want to talk about?” my mom asked as she passed me a bowl of ice cream and a spoon. Rocky Road had been my favorite when I was a kid, and I hadn’t had the heart to tell her that I now preferred coffee almond fudge.

I looked down at our kitchen table and traced the familiar knots and grains of the wood with my finger. “No, not really.”  

My mom knit her eyebrows. “Are you sure? Because you’ve been through a lot recently, and talking about it can help.”

I picked up my spoon and poked the marshmallows that dotted my ice cream and sighed. I was tired of talking. I looked up at my mom. “I talk all the time. I talk with Dr. Levy. I talk to Hayley and Em. I talk to you.”



7 comments:

  1. Hello Elisa

    This is well written and told with an excellent and clear voice. I find myself sympathetic with the character ( as a runner who has suffered through injuries during marathon training) and identifying with the aspect of being depressed after putting so much work into something, only to have it taken away from you.

    Big picture: I think it flows well, draws a picture of the character, setting, and begins to get across what some of the story will tell.

    I had one conceptual question that I struggled with: Is this a high school student or freshman college student? "the school play and student government scandal" sound high school to me, yet the idea of moving to San Diego to play soccer for a school seems like freshman year of college.

    The realization that this was a soccer injury surprised me. I guess it was from the tackle, which hinted at (American) football to me at first.

    In the very beginning when you describe the popping sound... I've heard the ACL described as being as loud as bubble wrap being popped. The rubber band seems too mild.

    One last thing. You may try going through the selection and see if you can take out the word "had" preceding your verb. I think it will read cleaner with them removed.

    Hope you find something useful in my comments.

    Aloha,
    Patrick

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  2. Hi Elisa,
    I really like this. I was actually a little surprised when I realized it was about a sports injury, but I feel like injuries (and the disappointment that comes with them) are something a lot of young adults deal with. It's an interesting concept and you write it well.
    I like your first sentence and the description you give about the noise. For anyone who has ever been injured, or even been in something like car accident, it's the noise that stays with you long after.
    I like the little details you give--like about the taupe in the office and how she can't decide how it makes her feel.
    That's all the feedback I have. I'm not sure if it's very helpful, but I thought it flowed well and I would keep reading.
    Good job!
    --Emily

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  3. Hi Elisa,

    Excellent writing. It flows really well so I could keep reading very easily. And the first paragraph is great. I had a physical reaction to the popping sound, so that's good. I too, was taken back when I found out the sport was soccer and not football. I was a little excited that it was football, because that's more unusual for a girl to play. When I thought it was football I had an image in my head of her, and then that changed when I found out it was soccer.
    I got a great impression of her friends, the injury, her mom, and I found myself wondering where the story was going and what exactly is the story about. Will this be about her joining the group therapy sessions? Or will it be about her recovery? Or will it be about whatever her mom is going to tell her? Will she ever play soccer again? These are all good questions that may keep me reading on to find out. On the other hand, I also want to be more invested in the book right away. I hope that makes sense. But like I said before, your writing is so smooth, I could easily read many pages and get into the story.
    Hope this helps and great job!
    Alicia

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  4. Hi Elisa!

    That first paragraph made me cringe so bad, in a good way! Great description there and it really popped! (No pun intended) Good job!

    So I really felt like the part that took place in the therapists office was just filler. It didn't really add to the opening (I think that if any of that information is needed, it can be added in bits after this beginning) and it made the beginning sort of drag.

    Maybe think about something like this to start?

    If I closed my eyes, I could still hear it, loud and clear. It was a popping sound, like the crack of a knuckle, or the snap of a rubber band. I would be eating lunch, or brushing my teeth, when all of a sudden: POP. In a way, the sound was worse than the pain that followed. I could deal with the pain, and if it became unbearable, there were pills I could take. But there was nothing I could do to drown out the popping sound that echoed in my head.

    "Do you want ice cream for dessert?"

    Whenever my mom suggested that we eat ice cream, it was a sign that she wanted to “talk.” I first noticed this when my parents split up. When my mom told me that she and my dad were going to couples therapy, she took out a pint of mint chocolate chip. When my parents told me that they had decided to separate, there was a half-gallon container of cherry vanilla on the table. And when they announced that they were getting a divorce, I was halfway through a bowl of butter pecan.

    That keeps us in the moment and then you can intersperse things that her therapist told her as the story moves forward. Interjecting things like her friendships, her therapist's suggestion for group therapy, etc. could be broken up quite easily. That way you could keep it relevant to the moment playing out. (Example is if it's a certain time of day when she would always meet friends for practice, she could remember how they were there for her and she pushed them away) or she might feel a twinge of guilt and remember what her therapist had said to her.

    I think you have a great start and I can't wait to read it again!

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  5. Hi Elisa! I think what I like the most about this piece is the theme. Many student athletes suffer injuries like these, and for many, the emotional injuries that accompany them are ignored. Bravo for beginning with this.

    The writing was fluent and kept me reading. There's an ease to your writing, which is really nice. Hannah has a soft voice, yet boldness hovers just above it. You've done nicely with the psychologist's voice, too. It's quite clinical. I like that she has a caring mother and friends.

    A few suggestions of where you might be able to tighten: I like your opening paragraph, but I'm wondering if you can give a hint that she suffered a trauma at the end. You could still continue with the psychologist; just word it a little differently. There are a few areas (explanation of her offer to play, her friends, & her parents split) that could be shortened, which could improve the pace a little. You could always add more detail about these subjects later on. Saying this, I do think it would be beneficial to go a little deeper with the conversation between Hannah and her mother, show a bit more emotion, which could help the reader define their relationship.

    It's funny. The thought that this was a football injury crossed my mind, but ultimately I felt it wasn't. I'm not sure why, other than I have a daughter who's suffered soccer injuries.

    My only other note is that at first I thought this was going to be about her finally agreeing to attend the therapy group. But it ended in a sort of no man's land. I wonder if her rant about talking with everyone could lead to the fact that she's not doing it anymore. I guess I just feel like the reader needs a little more direction at the end here.

    I really enjoyed this. I can't wait to read your revision!

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  6. Hi, Elisa!
    Friendly neighborhood mentor, here. :-)
    I think you've got a strong start. Your writing--as others have noted--flows very well, and there's nothing wrong with it, which means you've got the important stuff down.
    But I am going to pick on you a bit, because it's my job and this is the first round of the workshop, so I'd be remiss if I didn't point out something you could improve on, right? So here goes.
    I think you're biggest issue in this section is that it's a casserole. Casseroles are yummy, right? But they're not really your best dish that you pull out for the friends you're trying super hard to impress. For those friends you pull out the rotisserie chicken and acorn squash cous cous with creme brulee for dessert.
    You want the first five pages of your book to sparkle like a freaking supernova. Which means you have to pull out the big guns. I don't necessarily mean action, I mean the unexpected.
    For example, your opener about the popping sound is exactly what I want to see more of. It's magical because it's unexpected. An example of where your opener is perhaps not quite as magical, is the part where Hannah's mom breaks out the ice cream and Hannah tells us that that happens whenever Hannah's mom has bad news to share. That's kind of a weak anecdote, because it's (forgive me) not terribly original and doesn't shed any kind of new light on Hannah's mom or their relationship. I think that is a good sort of anecdote to have in exactly the right spot--your instincts are good on that--but consider changing it up to be specific to Hannah's mom and not generic that any mom could do. Maybe Hanna's mom is an electrical engineer and her way of breaking bad news is by reprogramming a Furby to tell her. See what I mean? Dig a little deeper to make a seemingly throw-away detail work for you, shine brighter, illuminate your characters a little more.
    Also, I think you might be telling too much backstory up front. Specifically, the part about how she met her friends is not something we need to know until we meet them in the forward action of the story. Use that space instead to provide real-life examples of them not understanding her emotional landscape since the injury--a particularly ouchie flashback to an insensitive comment or moment, maybe. You want us to feel, not just know.
    Hope this helps! Like I said, I'm picking on you a bit, because this is all pretty strong already. Just remember that you have to compete with the likes of Rainbow Rowell and John Green, and their prose sparkles like the freaking Big Bang.

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  7. Hi Elisa!

    Sorry I’m late to the party. :) I don’t have much to add to what others have already said. I think your voice is good; your style is very smooth and professional. Very readable. But it does feel like this opening is a little too heavy on the exposition.

    I know how that goes: I’m struggling with it myself. How do I get across all the information that the reader needs, and still keep them engaged in the moment with this character? I haven’t cracked it yet.

    I would defer a lot of the backstory you have here and let the reader guess at it while some kind of action – not talking -- unfolds. You’ve given us very good reasons why Hannah feels the way she does, but knowing intellectually is not the same as feeling. Show us a little more so we can feel along with her.

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