Monday, February 22, 2016

1st 5 Pages February Workshop - Lambert Rev 2

Summer Shadows
Jeannie Lambert
Young Adult

Belonging to a group is so 10th grade.  That explains Jessie’s obsession.   Her mantra is "must-join-anything," even the Boiling Springs Rescue Squad. Finding a patient off-grid during a search earned her guarded praise.  She may have the presence of a poodle, but her gift for search and rescue is on par with a blue-tic hound.

Rescue callouts happen all of the time. Hiking in the Appalachian Mountains is like spinning in a Maytag washer with undulating hills snarled by rhododendron.  She uses her hiking staff much like a water divining rod – she learned old soul nature logic and navigation – map and compass not GPS style - from Grammy.  Jesse won’t let herself lose her way, she has done that once.
Jessie’s crisis began by lying to her dad in order to keep a guilty secret. Now she is isolated in her own tower of skin and bones.  No matter how many lost people she chases after and finds it will never make up for the one man she abandoned.        
The right side is not to tell a lie.  LEFT SIDE OF THE TRUTH is what Jessie will tell you now.

Tones go off announcing a BOLO.  The Rapid Beep Tone is a high priority call that alerts my rescue squad that we’re needed. 

“Jessie we’ve got a call, listen while I go pee,” said Aunt Celia.
The annoying alarm stops briefly for a rapid information dump from Tony, our dispatcher.  I resist the impulse to toss the pager out the window.  Trust me, it is tempting.  Turning up the volume all I catch is “… point last seen is Graveyard Fields.”  I wait, the best way to imprint the instructions is to listen with my eyes closed.  Completely still, I mentally tattoo everything I hear to my eyelids.  I have learned so much this summer. I’m getting directions for the middle of nowhere, yet I don’t find that weird.  Or at least I hope I’m not weird, I smile weakly. 
“Be on the Lookout for a missing person, possible runaway.  Meet at the Looking Glass trailhead for assignments.  Come prepared with 24 hour pack.”  Back in June, my reaction to the tones included an adrenaline dump.  I used to rush around getting ready for a call, but I totally spaced out on details like where I was supposed to go.  Now I deal with chaos differently.  I turn my hand up and reach to feel my pulse, about 110 beats per minute.  While my heart rate is pumping, I deliberately slow down.  I have changed sometime over the summer.  Now I know how to override that impulsive me.
I belong to the Boiling Springs Rescue Squad so they gave me the black box that can’t play music, text, or snap chat.  No one checks, but I have proof in my wallet.  The clear plastic pouch holds my driver’s license on one side and my EMT certificate on the other.  I might be the only high school student who gets to drive an ambulance.  Tonight I get to tromp around a dense forest looking for one little person lost and alone.  Sleep isn’t going to be an option, I should bring an extra stash of emergency chocolate. With all of my gear on I may blend in with the guys, but my squeaky voice gives me away.  I’m the only one on the team with a 1000 curfew; it’s waived for the summer.  I retrieve my pager from its charging station and zip it up in my backpack. 
“Aunt Celia let’s go already.”  I’m spending the summer with my aunt because my dad sent me to help out after she hurt herself.  I think it’s a conspiracy.  He wants to cure me from a bad case of teenageritis. 
The door to the solar composting toilet bangs shut.  That is my clue to start the car.  It cranks on the third try.  I go over my mental list of things I need: 
I want to make sure that I’m prepared.   
“Jessie, let’s go already,” Aunt Celia doesn’t notice that I’ve been waiting on her.  She begins to pull items from around her and stuffs things into her empty pack.  She doesn’t keep lists like I do.  She’ll build her pack on the way to the call.
“Crap on a cracker, Jessie.  Can you believe I forgot my Nalgeen?  Do you have a spare bottle?” 
“Sure Aunt Celia,” She doesn’t know that I plan for her to forget things.  I bring plenty of essentials for the two of us. 
“This is ‘citing,” I hope I get assigned to the dog team.”  Aunt Celia turns up the volume of the radio, heavy metal music notes spill out of our open windows.
“Aunt Celia we’re supposed to be the First Responders, not the loud responders.”  
Our Ricky Red light is attached at a jaunty angle to the car which allows us to legally speed along the rural road, I’m not scared.  I don’t expect to meet any one else along the way.  This is a small town.  Our motto is: “Boiling Springs we know where it is.” 
I’m glad that the emergency is not my own, this time. Four months ago, I was the BOLO.  I ran away.  It is hard to believe…I made a mistake, and then ran away.  I was desperate.  When I find the lost person, I can honestly say, “I know how it feels.”  It is easy to return to that moment back at Devil’s Cellar.  I wasn’t thinking about anything.  I remember…
I turn off my cell phone and tuck it into my back pocket.  The last text, “Jesse where are u.”  It’s over. I am on my own.  There is no do over button in life.  Trust me if there was, then I wouldn’t be standing here…at the top of Devil’s Cellar. 
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, demanding to see what the inside looks like.  Surely there is an end.   I toss a pebble and turn my ear inward to listen for it to hit bottom.  Nothing,…really… 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.
“You scared me, I almost fell in.”
“Isn’t that what you were trying to do?” asks a boy, draped in a poncho, he stepped away from the camouflaging wall of rhododendron.
“I wasn’t going to… jump or anything,” faltering, not sounding very convincing.   “I was trying to hear if my rock could hit the bottom.  It is bottomless, don’t you know?”
“Don’t lie, you know you want to.  Why else would you come up here? Don’t think I haven’t thought about it myself.”  Sinking to a moss covered perch, a few steps from nothingness; I squirm away from the question and vision of me tumbling head over heels.
“I need to get away…but I’m not ready for forever,” I said.
“Me too, that’s why I’m running away.”  He’s running away too?  I’m not the only one so tortured and misunderstood. I’m running away from my problems, but they followed me up here.  I wish I could toss them over the edge, but they have impaled me and I can’t go anywhere without taking them along.
“You’re running away too?  Where are you going?”
“That’s what I am here to figure out, hold this,” he said, handing me a rope.
“What’s the rope for?”
“I’m going through Devil’s Cellar.  Do you want to come?”
“You’re going in Devil’s Cellar?”  I almost said, “Is that safe?”  I never got to wear the sash, but I was a safety patrol want-to-be.  I’m so desperate to get away from my problems that I contemplated ending it all, or at least something, right here.  I’m not being very safe right now.  Awkwardly fatal I know, but that is why I need my list.
“Yep, that is my plan.”
“That’s not possible.  How are you going to get back?”
“Back where?  There is nothing left at home for me except problems.  I have to get away.  What about you?  What brings you up here to the capital of Doom and Gloom?  Considering we are both on top of Devil’s Cellar during a lightning storm I’ll bet there isn’t a lot of Kumbaya at your house either?”
“That’s true.” How does he know me so well when my family missed it entirely?
“I’m fixing to rappel down and go out the other end.  Wanna come?”
“No, that's crazy.”
               “Then at least I’ll know.  Make yourself useful.  Shine this light for me while I tie a couple of knots.  Bowline goes something like… make a hole, and then the bunny goes around a tree and back through the hole.”
               “Yes, I will go with you,” drawn into this boy’s conviction, I didn’t want to be left alone.  Running away plays out much more exciting and glamorous in my head.  I’m left dodging raindrops and micro monsters.  “No, I can’t go.”
               “You are confusing me.  Which is it?” he demanded, while shrugging his shoulders.
               “I can’t decide, because I’m such a mess.  Look at me.  I am this,” pointing to my orange hair.
“You are useless at shining the light where I need it, but no, you are not your hair.” Shaking his head, he takes the light from me, sticks it in his mouth and shines it on the rope spaghetti in his hands.
“Seriously I am a walking disaster.  I ruin everything.”
Handing back the wet-gloppy-saliva coated flashlight he said, “I think that will work but just in case, I’ll tie a couple of extra knots on the end.”
Flinging the saliva off my hand, I watch as the flashlight follows.  It catapults up, and then flops end over end beyond my grasp.  We both lean over and watch the light disappear.  Circling the drain, cloud vapors funnel around that hungry, gaping hole.  The flashlight is flushed beyond our grasp.  Shoulder to shoulder we lay down with our heads leaning over superman style.  It feels like we are flying above the gruesome shadows that replace the darkness.  A dim glow appears.
“That’s good to know.  It’s not my plan, but it works. I was going to lower the light in a controlled descent. I’m glad your way didn’t break it with the bounce.”
“Sorry,” I said wanting to take it back, everything back that I’ve done.
“That’s okay.  You didn’t mean it.  Let me know when you make up your mind because this train is leaving soon as I set up an anchor around one of these pine trees.  I can’t stop you from being a walking disaster.  That’s up to you.  I’m not joining your pity party.”  He walks his rope to the sturdiest looking tree.  The weathered, scrappy trees cling to any crevice.  I too continue to cling, hoping for a do over.  He is deliberate and sure, all I live with now is doubt.
“Rock,” he cups his hand and delivers a warning before heaving the rope into the hole.  The rope unfurls, whipping around the disappearing coil, faster and faster.  That is some deep hole.  A taunt tail remains behind, bending over the rough edge.  He sits with his legs dangling over what is in no way a pool.  Up above a light casts its net across the infinity edged sky, drawing back a catch of cumulus clouds. The light is strangely soothing.  But I could do without the…clenching my fist, pickling my eyes tight, I wait...KaBoom!  A hand grazes and comes to rest over mine.  He gives me a squeeze, a lifeline pulling me back into the present.  I link hands, feeling a smooth ring around his index finger with a rough, frayed border. Squinting from behind my closed eyes, I notice that it is a ring made up of that disappearing camo duct tape – weirdness.  The sap and scales from the pine tree transfer over to my hand bonding us momentarily, leaving a residue. The muffled sounds diminish in the distance.  And I peer over at his hand just as he withdraws.  Evidence remains in the warmth radiating through me – a palpable connection.  It is a gift I didn’t know that I needed.     
“That works better than I thought.  Piece of cake, do you want to go first or should I?”  I don’t deserve it but I crave his company even though we just met.  I don’t want him to leave me.
“The storm is getting closer,” I am the queen of stating obvious information gleaned from the simultaneous flash to crash ratio of lightning to thunder (my list does work sometimes when I stay off my phone and pay attention in Mr. D’s science class).  Surrounding us, that last strike came from the ground up.  This destination is shifting into a seriously scary place.  The hole on the other hand not so much.
“Maybe so, up here it is hard to tell because the storms circle.  We’re a perfect target for lightning.  That’s why I don’t carry an umbrella, too much metal.”
“What about all those climbing clippie things, aren’t they metal?”
“You’re talking about these carabineers?  I guess you’re right, didn’t think about it that way.  Come to think of it, I’m safe; because you and your braces can act like my lightning rod.”
“I’m not scared.  Lightning used to be one of my heebie-jeebies.


  1. I'm stunned... this has really changed from the first draft. I didn't recognize it this time.

    I like how it jumps into the action now. And the wild, forgetful Aunt makes me curious to find out more about her.
    Good work!

    The Pitch 1st paragraph is interesting... the first sentence is confusing rather than alluring to me. It seems like she doesn't want to be "so 10th grade", but then she is obsessed with it, so that's odd.

    "Belonging to a group is so 10th grade. That explains Jessie’s obsession."

    I like the reference to the hound dog though, great imagery.

    Keep up the good work. Follow your heart.

  2. Hi Jeannie,
    I think there's plenty to like about your work. I read this revision and then only skimmed the other versions, so forgive me if I'm retreading old ground. There're two things that struck me. The first very minor, in your dialogue the characters seem to repeat the same questions (maybe once in their head, then once out loud). If you change it up it won't feel so repetitive.

    My second comment regards the timeline. I found it confusing. I may be totally off mark, but it feels like this is a story that will build to the revelation about why Jessie ran away. I don't think you need a flashback here. I think if anything you're starting the story at the wrong place. It's like you're saying "look, everything worked out fine." You could start with the bottomless pit scene. Then move to the later scene in the next chapter/half chapter. Then you've still got the flexibility of flashing back to past events if you need to.

    Keep going and congrats on getting it out there!

  3. Hi Jeannie,

    WOW, this has really changed since your first draft! Your work keeps getting better and better!

    At this point, I think you're ready for some nitpicky, more specific comments, so here are some things for you to consider:

    -I love that you're starting in the action now, but your first sentence is confusing and doesn't grab me. Consider spending some time really working on a strong first sentence to hook your readers! Something about the fact that there's a missing child might be good, or simply rework what you have so it's more gripping.
    -I noticed a couple of grammatical errors and missing words; just something to go back and check for before submitting this anywhere!
    -The term "teenageritis" sounded kind of...I'm not sure condescending is the right word, but basically, it sounded like an adult writing for teens, as opposed to a term that would be in an authentically teenage novel. That's totally personal preference, though, so take that with a grain of salt.
    -I also noticed that in the dialogue section with the boy, he and Jessie are repeating some questions back and forth between them. Look for places where you can cut and simplify the dialogue and clean it up a bit.

    My last comment--and this is perhaps the biggest--is that one moment we are on a search and rescue mission for a lost person, and the next, we seem to be back at the moment from your first version where Jessie ran away. Did we just skip around in time? On my second read-through, I understood a little more clearly that Jessie is reflecting back to when she was the subject of a search and rescue mission. If that's the case, can you find a way to show us that there's a flashback? One way you could do this is with formatting. Either a scene break or italics, etc--whatever you prefer! But with nothing to distinguish the flashback from the rest of the narrative, it reads confusing as-is!

    Again, this opening is SO MUCH stronger, Jeannie! Truly, you've done a wonderful job taking in feedback and revising your pages, and you should be proud! I hope I've been helpful here, and I can't wait to see what you do next!

    All my best,
    Sarah Marsh
    First Five Pages Mentor

  4. Your opening sentences are somewhat confusing. The first sentence seems to make her not like joining groups, but the rest make it seem like she does.

    One space after a period. Not two.

    The second paragraph does little to advance the story, I’d consider losing it.

    All in all, the pitch is too vague to keep me interested. I don’t know what happened or who she abandoned.

    Keep in mind that with a pitch, you’re not trying to attract readers, who don’t want to know the whole pot in advance, but agents, who want to know if the story is satisfying overall. Throw it all out there. Don’t let the agent feel like you’re keeping them in the dark.

    Don’t throw jargon like BOLO at us immediately. Already I’m at a loss. And if the message is a high priority, couldn’t the aunt wait to use the bathroom?

    Cut out ‘trust me, it is tempting.’ She just said she had the urge to throw it.

    Why was the volume turned down?

    ‘Lookout’ should not be capitalized.

    I love the line about Snap Chat.

    No one checks...what?

    How did the aunt hurt herself?

    What’s Nalgeen?

    She says ‘I ran away’ twice.

    It was confusing as to when the flashback started, for a bit I thought the rescue was at Devil’s Cellar.

    Safety patrol wanna high school?

    The dialogue between Jessie and the boy seems stilted. Read it out loud and see if it seems natural.

    I feel like I’m reading two different stories. We are introduced to Jessie, who, while still in high school, has a position of responsibility, perhaps even authority. But before we truly get to know her, she’s running away, maybe even thinking about suicide, and wallowing in self-pity, though more aware of this than most teenagers would be.

    We have to either get to know responsible Jessie, so we can be surprised at what a wreck she used to be; or irresponsible Jessie, so we can watch her character develop. We can’t get to know both of them at the same time.

  5. I like the flow of the beginning of the story, but I feel like the scene when she runs away still works better as an opening to the story. I think there's more of a dramatic affect to start out with her running away, not knowing what she's going to do or what might happen to her or why she ran away, and then lead up to her new summer job as search and rescue. Either that, the flashback of her past needs to be shorter, and you can give more glimpses of it throughout the story to slowly tell what happened to her when she ran away. Great idea for this new beginning! I like where it's going!

  6. Pitch:
    I wasn’t really grabbed by the first two lines of the pitch. What does it mean that being part of a group is so 10th grade? This could be read as sarcastic or a true statement and it’s unclear which it is until sentence 3. Also, why is this “her mantra”? Is she trying to escape something? Keep occupied? You don’t want to cause confusion or the reader will stop reading the pitch. You really need to grab them with that first line. Think about what makes your book standout and mention that here. You want the reader to be able to get a sense of what the book is and why they should read it right away in a pitch. Then you can elaborate. I’m not sure about the last sentence in the first paragraph either it just didn’t grab me.
    The sentence that really grabbed me was the first sentences of paragraph 2. I might start with that and then go into Jessie being into search and rescue. I think most of paragraph 1 can go or be incorporated into paragraph 2. I don’t think sentence 2 of paragraph 2 is necessary, it’s doesn’t feel important enough for a pitch and you’ve made it clear already she knows what she’s doing. The bit about lying to her dad should come in sooner as that makes it clearer why she wants to join a group—to escape. Sounds like you have an unreliable narrator here, which definitely intrigues me.

    As for the pages, what an exciting opening! You get right to the action which drew my attention while giving enough background info that I got a sense of who Jessie is and what’s going on. I might take out line 3 (the dialogue from Aunt Celia), it took me out of the excitement and I don’t think is necessary.

    What is the black box she’s talking about? Elaborate.

    Not sure the curfew line is necessary as she says right after it’s waived for the Summer. You can say she’s the youngest on the team or for clarity if you keep that line, add “though” before ‘it’s waived for the Summer.’

    The sentence that starts “Our Ricky Red Light…” is not a complete sentence. Put a period after ‘road’ and make “I’m not a scared,” a new sentence. Also I've never heard 'Ricky Red' before. Is this a common term for an ambulance light?

    Paragraph 14: You say that ‘she ran away’ twice, a sentence apart. Cut out one of these sentences. It reads repetitive.

    There are some words throughout that read a bit dated and not something I’m sure a teenager would say. I wasn’t quite sure if this is meant to be set now or slightly in the past.

    Lastly, the jump from present to past was abrupt and a bit jarring. It might be better to start with this or hint at it now and flash back to it later on in the story where it feels natural. Right now it felt too soon for a major flashback scene as we’re just starting to get to know Jessie.

    There are some nice descriptive lines throughout and you create a good sense of Jessie’s character. A missing person type mystery is intriguing so I definitely see potential here. Great job!

    Christa Heschke
    McIntosh & Otis, Inc.

  7. Hi Jessie,

    WOW! SUPER great job on the revision. Now that I see the pitch, I completely understand why you were having trouble starting the story in the place where you had been starting it. Your narrator is interesting in this version, and I think that the way you're presenting her this time really works. You need to clarify the jumping around part, and since it's generally not a great idea to use a flashback in early stages, at least make sure that it is absolutely necessary for us to get the information at that point. Consider if there's another way to work it in so that you can be more linear, perhaps.

    You really need to work on the basics though. Your dialogue is still incorrectly punctuated.

    For example:

    “Jessie, let’s go already,” Aunt Celia doesn’t notice that I’ve been waiting on her. She begins to pull items from around her and stuffs things into her empty pack. She doesn’t keep lists like I do. She’ll build her pack on the way to the call.

    Should be:

    “Jessie, let’s go already.” Aunt Celia doesn’t notice that I’ve been waiting on her. She begins to pull items from around her and stuffs things into her empty pack. She doesn’t keep lists like I do. She’ll build her pack on the way to the call.


    “Jessie, let’s go already,” Aunt Celia says. She doesn’t notice that I’ve been waiting on her. She begins to pull items from around her and stuffs things into her empty pack. She doesn’t keep lists like I do. She’ll build her pack on the way to the call

    Watch your tenses as well:

    “Jessie we’ve got a call, listen while I go pee,” said Aunt Celia.

    Should be:

    “Jessie, we’ve got a call. Listen while I go pee,” says Aunt Celia.

    You use a proper name in six of your first seven bits of dialogue, and that's far too frequent a usage. Listen to how people really talk to each other and how infrequently they say each other's names in real life.

    At each point in the story, ask yourself how much of what you're writing down the reader knows already, how much of it is necessary for the reader to know, and how much is necessary for them to know at that exact moment.

    I'm really enjoying this version, so keep working on it!

    All best luck with it!

  8. I am responding after weeks of revising my query letter so much that it doesn't even resemble my first draft! I think the query needs to be trimmed down quite a bit. It should have a hook, conflict, and what's at stake for your protagonist- enough detail to pull the reader in, but not so much that it gives away too much of the story. I took out SO MUCH of what I had originally thought was critical to have in there (the current version is even more direct than the one I have posted here now), and dramatized the rest to the point that it felt a little silly but people keep telling me it's working! Query-writing is a skill in itself, and I'm right there with you with the learning curve! You're off to a great start- good luck!

  9. Hi Jeannie!

    Wow - this has really evolved. I love the way this is shaping up. I don't have much to add about the pitch. The others have pointed out some of the area that need work, and I would just say in general I agree you need to rework the paragraphs so it becomes clearer she's joining the search and rescue to escape her past and then spell out what the stakes are.

    I like the way you're opening with action. I didn't pick up on the search and rescue in previous versions, but I like this. It's a nice set up in the beginning. Some of the dialogue is still a bit confusing and could use tightening. I think there's a bit of repetition.

    Overall, I like this story and where it's going. You have a great beginning here!
    Good luck!

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