Sunday, February 7, 2016

1st 5 Pages February Workshop - Lambert

Jeannie Lambert

Young Adult

Summer Shadows


I keep lists.  Don’t bleach my hair at home (spoiler alert it turns carrot).  Make new friends.  Turn in my History Day project.  Wear plaid for twin day, and don’t forget the moccasins.  Where did I leave my camera?  Every day I have great intentions, but something happens along the way that distracts me.  For example, my list has instructions like, “say no to ice cream” so my pants can fit better.  But then, it is inevitable that I’m sitting with a bowl of ice cream spilling over the edge.  I don’t remember eating it until I’m scraping the bottom with my metal spoon.  I no longer trust myself.  So, to help me stay organized and in control, I keep lists.  My list of personal stuff is in the drawer beside my bed, hidden under scraps of paper and doodles and coloring pencils.  The list of to-do stuff is on a yellow sticky note on my bathroom mirror.  The front pocket of my backpack is my essential school list, on purple (my favorite color) notebook paper.  They all keep me straight.  I can depend on them.  If I obey my lists, then I get to be the girl in my head.  You know the pretty one paparazzied by everyone at school wanting to be my friend.

Without my lists, I’m just Jesse.

I feel like a variable rather than a number in a math equation – too hard to solve.  I do and say the craziest things.  A classic is when I
accidently left my butane lighter from Chemistry next to my sanitary napkins in my locker.  The fire drill ended up being for real.  My locker spewed out flames.  An overzealous teacher tossed everything out of the locker.  All of the contents, I, was exposed for everyone to see, peeking out of the pile were my sanitary napkins, mechanical pencils, and acne cream.  Covered with spray from the fire extinguisher, the snap chat photo were viral around school.  Going from bad to worse, they called me to the office.  Now I’m known as the flaming-sanitary-napkin girl.  I’ve always wanted to stand out, but not like this.  When I turned 16, I didn’t get a car.  I didn’t even get a basement Sweet Sixteen party.  Without so much as a poof, I turned into random queen, one walking among many.  But I’m supposed to be special, right?  Be careful what you wish for because my rite of passage comes with an ugly secret. 

I’m a juvie, self-professed.  Not like a Disney star gone wild or a hardened criminal tattooed with love and hate across their knuckles, no one has to lock me up to convince me that I’m bad.  No official has caught on, yet.  I’m operating on stealth mode, so far.  I didn’t mean to go all juvie or anything.  I was with my friends.  They talked me into it.  I’ve been hit hard by the shock, leaking out from the hole in my soul.  Even holding on to my lists did not stop my life from spinning out of control. 

Today I’m pulling the biggest Jesse ever…I can hardly believe in myself.  I ran away from home.  I RAN AWAY FROM HOME.  It is more real than I can handle.  It’s one of those oopsies that starts out small and builds quickly gathering speed.  But it’s not my fault.  If only my list
mentioned that running away stinks, but it didn’t which explains why I’m standing here.  Devils Cellar – it is too real.  Only I would make the mistake of running away to such a dismal place.  This is going on my list. 

So this is Devil’s Cellar.  Why all the emotion?  Not even a sign to show I arrive.  It is just a hole, an imperfectly lined circle, rimmed with undulating boulders.  It is as if one bolder was picked up and thrown through corn-hole style.  Only the Devil himself could play in this super-sized game.  The edge needs a fence or caution tape to hold me back from peering in to see if it is indeed the physical path to infinity.  It is a fitting place to jump.  Non-forgiving and dark, just what I’m looking for.

Rain filters through the canopy above.  Booming follows the backlit lightning hovering with irregularly, irregular crashing.  “Go ahead and hit me, you know you want to God.”  I issue the challenge knowing that nothing could make my life worse than it already is.

So back to my list, new entry, one I never thought I’d have to write – don’t run away again.  I royally screwed up in the last 24 hours and I didn’t know what to do after the accident.  I’m not in trouble for what I did.  In fact, it’s the opposite.  I’m troubled by what I failed to do.  And then, I lied.  Now standing on the hollowed out crater called Devil’s Cellar I know with no uncertainty that I’m a walking disaster.  Getting away is my plan, but what’s next after that?  I have no idea.  Ditching anything remotely close to my routine, it is amazing how far away I can get in just a few hours by taking a left out of town with the family car and a Learner’s Permit.  In my former life, I’d be considering which frozen slab of Lean Cuisine to nuke for dinner.  But that is not what’s what.  A tap on the shoulder with that wand from random girl (me)
levitated me, temporarily suspended until the magic and momentum of running away reversed propulsion – auguring in.  And here I am squatting down to a big plate of nothing in the company of my racing thoughts next to the gloomiest place on earth.  My shoulders feel heavy.  Rolling them doesn’t remove the weight, sigh.  Glancing down I see my knuckles took the brunt of my punishing quest to get away.  Climbing vertical, at times hand over hand, I continued up despite falling and catching brambles.  If I had a mirror, I would see a shiner on my right eye from a well-aimed branch fling-back.  But I no longer care what happens to me.  Devil’s Cellar called out to me as a fitting destination to match my mood. 

I’ve never seen a bottomless hole for real.  I’m afraid of it, or more so what it signifies, an unknown in the category of quick sand and wild lobsters.  Despite the absence of light, I am certain that if there is a bottom, then I’ll see it.  I must get closer.  Crawling, I peer over the edge.  Surely there is an end.  I toss a pebble and turn my ear inward to listen for it to hit bottom.  Nothing, seriously?  Standing, darting around I find a hefty rock to toss in.  Heaving it lateral…

“Hey, I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”  Interrupting my toss, the momentum of the rock carries me.  Stumbling I catch myself just before going over the edge. 

“What the – “

“Don’t jump.”  I hear a voice.

“Why not, I ruin everything,” looking up I challenge God.

“Who are you talking to?”  Swiveling my head I spot a boy from a skip and a big jump away.

“You scared me, I almost fell in.”

“Isn’t that what you were trying to do?” A boy moves, draped in a
camouflaging poncho.

“I wasn’t going to …jump or anything,” faltering, not sounding very convincing.  “I was trying to hear my rock hit bottom.”

“You’re lying.”


  1. Hi Jeannie!

    Thank you so much for sharing your work with us.

    I love how you show us a lot about your MC right away through Jesse's habit of keeping lists, but I worry that you aren't starting the story in the right place. I think a much more powerful opening, one that would really hook the reader, would be to begin with Jesse running away from home. From there, you can establish setting while easing us into the concept of the lists, and even show us one as you do in your original opening (as an aside, though, I think the lists would be more powerful if you actually format them as lists within the manuscript). As it stands, though, the lists are conveying too much information when we don't even know your character or the setting yet.

    If you start with running away from home, you can ground us in the setting and let us feel a connection to Jesse from the get-go. The paragraphs that are all telling (explaining the lists, and your MC's fears) take me out of the current setting/action, and I felt unsure as to where Jesse was when I reached the end of the pages.

    I think rearranging flow of information is key here, and I can't wait to see your revision on this intriguing beginning!

    All best,
    Sarah Marsh
    First 5 Pages Mentor

  2. The things that your character is writing down are not lists. More like notes.

    ‘sitting with a bowl of ice cream spilling over the edge.’ Makes it sound like your narrator is spilling over the edge. And we can assume the spoon in metal, you don’t need to tell us.

    Interesting start. I like how Jesse has to write things down to keep in control. Kind of like that guy from MEMENTO (though I hope this book isn’t that dark).

    The sentence that begins ‘All the contents’ has a random ‘I’ in the middle. Also, it should be ‘contents were spilled’ rather than ‘was spilled.’

    What’s a basement Sweet Sixteen party? It probably shouldn’t be capitalized. Neither should Chemistry or Learner’s Permit.

    ‘I turned into (a) random queen.’ What does that mean?
    I can tell you and I are from the same generation. Only put one space between sentences. I had to break myself from that habit as well.

    I’m not sure what Jesse means by being a juvie (and I don’t think criminal teenagers refer to themselves that way). We need to know what she’s done to make her think of herself like that.

    Remember the apostrophe on the first mention of Devil’s Cellar.

    What’s ‘corn hole style’? I’d tell you to google ‘corn hole,’ but, um, don’t. Just think of a different term. Trust me.

    She challenges God twice, and the second time seems out of place.

    I’m having a hard time getting a handle on your character. The first few paragraphs I’m picturing a loveable nerd; a girl who’s trying to fit in, maybe a little overweight but can’t stop snacking; an endearing, accident prone screw up. Then everything suddenly takes a dark turn. You give us hints as to what happened, but nothing concrete. She goes from being embarrassed about starting a fire with her pads to standing on the edge of a pit daring God to strike her dead.

    In order for this opening to work, we need to start with whatever it was that set Jesse off (incidentally, that spelling of ‘Jesse’ is usually for males). Why does she think of herself as a criminal? What was this accident, even vaguely? Why is she running away?

    The idea of the lists is excellent. The locker fire is excellent. The teetering on the pit is excellent. But they don’t really work together.

  3. Hi Jeannie!

    I love YA contemporary, and I don't mind gritty, realistic stories that are a little darker - and yours seems like it might be headed in that direction.

    As for your opening, I like the lists. The random thoughts show us some of her personality, and are kind of quirky. I thought the part about the pads catching on fire was funny-- do girls really say sanitary napkins these days?? I'm not a teenager, so I don't know, just asking -- and if you're going for humor, maybe rework that bit and start with that.

    But then you kind of go dark. . .

    The character describes herself as a "juvie" and then starts hinting but not naming the actions that would cause her to wear this label. In the next paragraph when the MC reveals she's "running away" is where I really start to get drawn in & intrigued.

    However, these paragraphs and the next couple where she's standing at Devil's Cellar and railing at God are a tad bit jumbled and confusing. In some instances, you repeat yourself. I'm not sure why she's so desperate. I get that sometimes lots of little things add up and would make a teenager desperate, but I don't see the transition here.

    All in all, you've got a lot of good ideas. At this point, it seems a little jumbled up together. Perhaps you could re-order the paragraphs and re-write the scenes to make them link in a more logical way? Oh yes, now I'm re-reading the other comments above, and yes, I agree. Lots of good things here, but I'm not sure it's coming together like you want it to for the reader. Good luck, and I look forward to reading revisions.

  4. Hi Jeannie,

    You know a LOT about your character, which is fantastic, and there are definitely a lot of lovely voicy bits in here which bode well of things to come. All that is great. I think i do like your character, but you're expending a lot of space on lists--which aren't lists as much as notes--that aren't actually furthering your story.

    Truly, I think that you're not starting in the right spot or in the right way just yet. There's no actual action--nothing happening--until the very end. I'm not implying that the action needs to be momentous or explosive in the beginning, but we need to see your character in motion, within her normal world--at the moment before things begin to change for her. The key there is "see" -- right now, you're telling us about her background, but we're not seeing it nor getting the chance to form our own opinions in a way that's going to be sympathetic to your MC. We're not getting the opportunity to *feel* for her before you go very dark, and that means that when we see things fall apart, we're not involved enough in the story to care.

    My suggestions?

    If the accident is the trigger, start just before that. Show us a brief scene that encapsulates the mess in which her life currently exists. Show her making an embarrassing mistake, dealing with the ramifications, and adding that to her list for next time--or some such--and then show us the accident and why it happens. Show her emotional response, her flight out of town, and her mad scramble to the crater. If the boy who saves her is in school, and if this is going to be a romance, maybe show him in the crowd, if you want to get him in early. Let us see who she is--does she have any friends or family that she's leaving behind or who've betrayed her. We know she didn't get a sweet 16 party, but is that because there wouldn't have been anyone to invite, because her parents didn't care, because she doesn't have a basement, because there's no money?

    Chiefly, show us the story question. Where is your story going? Clearly your character is a mess. She wants to not be a mess. She wants to be one of the popular girls. But why? I don't have a sense of why she is the way she is, or why she wants what she wants. That isn't strictly necessary, but it helps to ground the reader a little bit and give us a taste of what we are getting. And this doesn't (emphatically doesn't) mean that you have to tell us any of this. Take a look at Julie Murphy's DUMPLIN' for example to see how describing something happening to someone else can reveal the narrator to the reader more completely than direct narrative.

    Once you began to create a scene--which begins at the "I've never seen a bottomless hole for real" line, there's a lovely flow that suggests you're going to do great with this when you hit your stride. Remember to ground us in some 3D description though, incorporating all your senses (judiciously) to give us a hint of how the place smells, sounds, and feels as well as how it looks. And be careful about the mechanics of dialog tags. Read up on those so that you have the fundamentals down before you go much further! : ) It will make revision much easier in the end.

    Looking forward to seeing the next round of this!

  5. Hi, you're story is intriguing.

    I'd love to see it start out with the hook, "I ran away." Then move it to the lists to sort things out. Starting with the list is more adult-like than a YA novel should be to me.

    The locker seen with maxi-pads on fire would be mortifying to a teen. I think it needs more feeling there. Show her face blazing red with embarrassment or something.

    What does "random queen" mean? Why does she expect a sweet 16 party in a basement of all places? Lots of kids don't get cars, so that doesn't build sympathy... just sounds like self-pity.

    I like the bottomless pit image, and that she thinks God is talking to her! Fantastic.

    I think showing more emotion rather than telling (that's my problem too) is necessary.

    I'd keep reading this. Your character is well built.

  6. Hi Jeannie!

    I love Jesse! Right away I feel an attachment to her with the insight we gained about her usage of lists/notes to keep in control. I love that insight, but I agree with one of the above comments that it might not be in quite the right place. I want to know more about her story and place in her world- what has happened to cause her to think of herself as a "juvie", and why she ran away from home. After reading this passage, I am left wondering these things. I think it might be better to start with a little more action and answer these questions, and then fill in with these bits of insight into the inner workings of Jesse.

    I'm also confused about what "Devil's Cellar" is. I think it would help to give a little more description of that setting and what has led her there.

    I was also confused by some of the terminology, like "random queen". I think the terms should either be more well-known or very well-defined in the context of the story.

    I agree with the previous comments that there is a bit of a conflict between quirky and dark in this passage. If you're going for a bit of both, maybe lighten up some of the darker stuff (like suggestions about jumping) just a tad?

    My suggestions would be: give the reader a clear idea of what has led Jesse to run away from home, make sure there is a firm sense of setting, and fill in insights about Jesse as these things unfold.

    I hope this helps! Looking forward to reading the next round!

  7. Hi Jeannie!

    I can relate to Jesse. I make lists too. And not fitting in in high school is definitely relatable, but I'm not sure what "juvie" is really referring to. Maybe focusing on one incident in the beginning and telling just a little more of what happened while she's running away, and then giving more examples like the locker incident later. It's a lot of seemingly separate pieces of information all at once, which makes it difficult to pin point what your story is really about.

    I think it would be fun to actually list your lists, and it would make the lists easier to read. Also, I think it is perfectly acceptable to say "tampons" in YA. You may not have been referring to tampons but I think "flaming tampon girl" has a ring to it. But that's just my opinion.

    I'm really looking forward to reading your revisions!