Monday, March 14, 2016

1st 5 Pages March Workshop - Sullivan Rev 1

Mary Sullivan

Young Adult

The Jade Quest



It’s 3:45 p.m. and they’re expecting me to get off the school bus in fifteen minutes. When I don’t, the shelter will send an alert to Indiana law enforcement and school officials. It’s their legal responsibility. I’m officially a ward of the state.

But it won’t matter. Because by the time they figure out I’m really gone, I’ll just be another tourist or student or stranger in Belize.

I shove open the shade covering the tiny window at seat 8A. The sun is shining over the Caribbean, gleaming off waves rippling over the reef below. I dig my nails into the arm rest of the airline seat and smack the shade down. I need to stay calm. I should clear customs in half an hour.

After that, it doesn’t matter how many reports the shelter files. Once the paperwork’s in and they’ve covered their butts, it’ll be, “Whatever happened to that girl? The one whose parents disappeared? I heard she transferred.” Something like that.

Still, my parents’ disappearance is famous enough—or it was a couple of months ago—that getting through customs unnoticed might be difficult. The story was probably even bigger down here since this is where mom and dad went missing.

“You’re awake,” says the kid to my right.

I finally really look at him. Tall. Lean. Haircut that requires styling. Like a flat iron and product. I can see gel or something in there—it’s shiny-looking. And he’s got a Prada backpack. Prada backpack. On the way to a developing country. I give him a half nod and put my earbuds back in.

He’s staring. I feel it. I glance over and catch him watching me. His eyes are almost turquoise. Caribbean-blue. I turn away quickly. Boys with highlights (I swear that’s what it looks like) don’t normally pay attention to me.

Which is fine.

What’s he doing on this flight anyway? It’s a school day.

The plane will be landing soon. If the school didn’t buy my excused absence story, they could have already alerted the shelter. What if passport control’s waiting for me? I won’t go back, and I don’t have a Plan B. At least that stupid freshmen yearbook photo plastered all over the news doesn’t even look like me.

“Are you by yourself?” he asks. “What are you doing down here?”

This guys’ not taking a hint. I sigh. Fine, I’ll consider it a dress rehearsal. “Study abroad.” I try to shrug like it’s no big deal, but my shoulders jerk up awkwardly and my voice sounds half an octave higher.

“It’s the middle of the semester.”


“Weird time to study abroad.”

My chest feels hot. Why does he care? I’ve sat here minding my own business since I changed planes in Atlanta. I even thought he was cute, but that’s when he was asleep. And watching his movie. And silent.

“What school are you going to?”

“Does it matter?” I snap, turning toward him. His skin is smooth and clear, his nose is straight, and I think he’d have dimples if he smiled. He looks air-brushed. I can’t turn away. His symmetry has me mesmerized. This gets on my nerves too.

“It doesn’t. I was just talking to you.”

I twist the cord of my iPod around my finger. “I’m not having the best day, okay?”

“Parents making you? Enrichment or other such bullshit?”


“Study abroad.”

“Uh, yeah.” I remove my earbuds. “Is that what you’re doing too?”

“No. I live here. With my dad. Mother summoned me state-side but now I remember why I chose to live with him.”


“He doesn’t know I’m coming back early, so I figure I’ve got five days to smoke a pound of ganja in peace before I’m subjected to his half-assed attempts at good parenting.”

“Oh.” I fold and unfold my hands. “Won’t your mom tell your dad that you left early?”

He smooths back an unseen stray hair. “Um, no. See, she wants me to do her dirty work and tell him she’s getting remarried. Believe me, she won’t send him so much as a bitter text until she thinks the deed is done. But I don’t want to deal with the backlash either, so I’m headed to the cayes.” He cracks his knuckles. “Snorkeling high is so intense. Like you’re inside an aquarium.”

This is now his second drug reference.

“So what school?” He asks again.

They told me not to worry. Search and rescue’s on it, which I believed. I also thought the media coverage would help the cause. How often do little puddle jumper, three-seater airplanes go missing? They also told me the charter service mom and dad hired out of Belize City had a great safety record and the pilot was top notch.

So you can imagine my surprise when they not only called off the search mission, but barely over a month later some a-hole judge declares them dead. Their plane didn’t crash, it vanished. Kind of a big difference.

And another thing: mom and dad were there to check on her archaeology site, not to go around renting airplanes. They don’t do stuff like that. I tried explaining this.

Here’s something I’ve figured out. The only people who really care about you are family, which means finding them is up to me.

So what school am I allegedly going to? My mind is blank.

Then I remember the last time I was in Belize, a couple years ago. On our way to the airport, mom pointed at a building and said if she had to extend her archaeological fieldwork into the next school year, I could go there.

A flight attendant comes by with customs forms. As I reach for one, I smile at the kid next to me. It’s a triumphant smile. “I’m going to the International School. In Belmopan.”

After I lend him a pen, he finally stays quiet while we fill out our forms. The plane’s on its final descent. I put my tray table away and reopen the shade. The water’s closer now. It looks like we’re skating on it. From my side I can see Belize City, urban sprawl hugging the coastline.

I press my shoulder blades against the seatback in anticipation of landing. The runway looks like it’s in the middle of the Caribbean Sea. I take a deep breath and almost smile. At least I’m finally doing something.

“Dude. No more than thirty days,” he whispers. With his head close to my face, I can smell his cologne. It’s subtle and nice and it annoys me that I like it.

I raise an eyebrow.

He points at my customs form, gripped between my fingers. I can’t believe he can read my tiny block letters. I’ve gottwo months written by the intended length of stay in Belize question. Big deal.

He leans over again. I can’t place the exact scent. “They only stamp you in for thirty days. They might give you shit about a visa if you say more.” He straightens up as the flight attendant walks by, as though she’s a librarian and we’re in the stacks instead of on a plane.

Panic seizes my throat, like someone’s gripping it. “Thirty days? But the semest—”

“Whatever. I don’t care why you’re really here, but I’m telling you: 30 days.”


  1. Ah, so glad you kept the descriptions of the setting! It's so good! I can really believe I'm THERE.

    I like that you have more references to the mystery, but I think you've chosen kind of a weird place to put it. I had to go back and check that I hadn't missed something. So I think it's good, and you really get the narrator's personality and voice through, but maybe move it somewhere else? It doesn't quite fit where it is.

    I really get her annoyance AND attention to her seat buddy, good job! And he was less annoying here! I don't know if that was intentional, but if he turns out to be a love interest it'll seem more natural, I think!

    Overall, well done; I'd definitely want to keep reading!

    1. Thanks for the feedback, Kellie! I'm going to look again at where I put that passage.

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  3. Hi Mary,
    I think you've done a lot to iron out the things that were slightly confusing in your first draft. I didn't even notice the thing with the $500 had been removed, so it obviously wasn't necessary and I think you made the right choice.

    I agree with Kellie about the info about her parents. It's tricky because the section is useful and I mentally put a pin in it as something I'd learn more about later. But it breaks the flow of the scene. Is there any way to have the characters discuss it? Could he recognise her from the news?

    Minor: the sentence about the flat iron and product has something wrong that made me need to reread it.

    Not sure you need to italicize They in the section about the judge.

    By the way, every time I read the line about him cracking his knuckles I'm repulsed. It's a great addition.

    Good luck.

    1. Hi Sarah! Thanks for the feedback. Since the $500 thing tripped up other people as well, I just moved it. It does play a rather big role later in the story, but I thought it might be prudent to keep it with the description of why she only has access to cash. (Funny enough, I've personally put cash in my shoes [in my younger years] b/t sock liners and socks, and TSA never said anything. It's so funny when real life can sound so absurd in fiction!]

      Haha on knuckle cracking!

      Yes, I was torn about putting in the info about why/how the parents were gone. The reason I did it was because so many reviewers seemed to need that information. In fact, it did come out later. I actually emailed Martina Boone for guidance, and she told me to make sure the story was very clear in the first five pages or less (I meant to share that info with everyone on Facebook). Unfortunately, I might have done it in a clunky way. Will have a look. Thanks!

  4. Hi Mary

    Great first revision. I really understand now in the beginning where Claire is meant to be (Indiana) and where she actually is (on a plane).

    I like the conflict you have between Claire and her annoying seatmate, because it sets up information to be relayed to the reader without it being a straight informational dump. But my only comment is that while I gleam this boy on the plane could be a major character in the story, right now I feel like he has too much dialogue, eating up your word count. We learn a good portion of his background, from what he says, and I’m not sure it’s necessary at this point.

    He smooths back an unseen stray hair. “Um, no. See, she wants me to do her dirty work and tell him she’s getting remarried. Believe me, she won’t send him so much as a bitter text until she thinks the deed is done. But I don’t want to deal with the backlash either, so I’m headed to the cayes.” He cracks his knuckles. “Snorkeling high is so intense. Like you’re inside an aquarium.”

    He smooths back his hair. “Um, no. I’m supposed to tell him she’s getting remarried. They don’t talk. Ever. So I’ve got free time to head to the cayes for some fun.” He cracks his knuckles. “Snorkeling high is so intense. Like you’re inside an aquarium.”

    So changing/minimizing his descriptions can let you either continue the story forward more or give you more freedom in bringing Claire’s dilemmas/worries to light.

    Lisa :)

    1. That's a great point! He is definitely a main character, but his goals are a little less important than hers (ha), so I can tone him down.

  5. Hi Mary,

    Your revision connects us much better with some important story details. We now understand her motivation for taking the flight.

    I’m able to get into the scene immediately. The give and take between your characters provides us with lots of info and sets up later issues. Will she clear customs without a hitch? What will she do to begin to locate her parents?

    There is one section that doesn’t flow for me. That’s the section added after “So what school?” He asks again. I like that you added more info about the parents, but I agree that the placement of the info breaks the flow of the scene. Maybe the info would work better a little later when she is anticipating landing and “The runway looks like it’s in the middle of the Caribbean Sea.” She could wonder if that’s where her parents are and then the info would fit in there. Also, some of the info might need to be saved for later in the story.

    Your scene is quite engaging. It really gets us into the story. This is a story I want to read. Great job.


    1. Yeah, the placement of that info seems clunky. I like your suggestion on where to move it. By the way, you asked last time why I said she was from's b/c that's where I'm from! (Sorry, I meant to respond to everyone last time, but I failed!)

    2. What are the chances of this happening? I also live in Indiana.

  6. Ha--and I went to junior high and high school in Indiana, actually--my folks still live there. Anyway, the revisions and additions are very nice in that they raise the question of a mystery for me this time instead of me questioning why the IN CPS/JJ system is being punky. So excellent job! Like everyone else, I was tripped up by the placement of the new info about the disappearance. It's 4 paragraphs of diversion. I think you could get away with less, and add a transition prior to launching into it, so the reader understands what's going on. Right now it's just a little too abrupt and long to flow, but that doesn't mean it can't work there if revised. So you do have options about where you put the info. But overall, what's provided definitely makes what's happening clearer, as well as Claire's goal and why she's approaching it this way. Looking forward to checking in next week!

    1. Thanks for the insight this and last time (I meant to respond last week too!). I realize that I end up explaining a lot of the things that tripped people up later in the story (such as why she's in the system and how she got the cash), but as it seemed to cause so many problems, I just took it out. I figure I can explain it all later. I'm going to work on not making that explanation so clunky. Thanks again!

  7. HI! I still really love it! She's so sassy. LOL

    Only two notes really - 1. when she starts thinking about her parents disappearance it's in an awkward moment. I think it's an easy fix though. Just have her zone out and start thinking about that before he asks the question about the school then have him ask it like he's repeating himself and she didn't hear him. Then..."So what school am I allegedly going to? My mind is blank" Make sense?
    And 2. I feel like her description of his hair is a bit too long -- like it's more important than it should be. Take out a sentence or two, but I love the guys with highlights line. I also love that second description paragraph where she's memorized by him. :D


  8. Hi Mary,

    Good revision! I don't miss the information that you removed, I'm led nicely into the story, and it chugs along enjoyably until the section you added about her parents disappearance. At that point, the clunky transition brings things screeching to a halt, but that's going to be a minor fix--just make the transition in and out more directly in line with her musing.

    Honestly, I can't help thinking that if her parents disappeared in a plane crash, there would be some nerves and some searching involved when she looks out the window. That's an easy lead in, but there are other opportunities as well. Find a place and a transition where her thoughts would naturally take her to this information. If she doesn't think it naturally, it's not going to feel right to the reader.

    As with every piece of information in this critical early part of the manuscript, definitely always consider what the reader needs to know, and when the reader needs to know it, but at the same time, never forget that there is a person with emotions, goals, and needs behind your character, and the way to information is frequently through those emotions, goals, and needs.

    Finally, if this is in any way related to a Mayan mystery, I think you could squeeze that in somewhere. (I'd personally love to read a book about that. But only if that's genuinely what the book is about.)

    Looking forward to the final revision!

  9. Thanks for your help this week and last week! It seems unanimous that I put this info in the wrong place, so I'm going to look for a way to make it more organic. I agree that getting on a plane would have to make her nervous, and that might be a good segue way into it. Thanks again!