Free writing workshop for aspiring authors of young adult and middle grade fiction. The first five pages may be all that agents, editors, and readers read, so get them right with the help of three authors over the course of three weeks. During the third week, an agent will also critique your pages and your pitch and pick a workshop winner - the prize is a partial request!
Name: Linda Hall Genre: Young Adult Contemporary Realistic Fiction Title: Jess & Tess
Everyone thinks being an identical twin is so cool. For Jess Gardner, not so much. The double-takes, the stares, the way too personal questions. You’re a twin first, a person second. That doesn’t make you cool. It makes you a freak.
What Jess wants most is for her deadbeat father to see her as an individual. But she’s “just like her mother.” The woman who left three years ago.
Since then, they’ve drifted from house to house, town to town, job to job. When their new house pulls up in the driveway, a rusted out, backfiring RV, Jess decides that she’s done. She’s given him his last chance. She’s got one move left and it’s the one where she gets away from him.
As Jess starts making plans to save her and her sister from their carnival-like existence, they drift further apart. She has to convince her sister to come with her. But her sister has a plan of her own.
I call us the Carnies. The oddities from places unknown. We roll into town, dazzle the locals for a while, and then vanish without a second thought. We creep in usually in the middle of the night and set up the same old life with the same old story. We stay a few months - short enough to almost make friends and long enough for Dad to ruin it. When he starts combing through his peas or mash potatoes searching for answers to what went wrong, we know it’s time to move on.
“Hopefully the next place is somewhere warm,” Tess says from behind me. She lifts the hem of my sweater and places her icy fingers on my back. The heat has already been shut off and packing has helped us stay warm except for our hands. The cardboard boxes have robbed them of their moisture and we’re left with cracked knuckles and frozen fingertips. “I doubt it,” I say as I spin around and push her hand away but my words come out as more of a giggle than the yelp she was hoping for. “When’s the last time he did anything we want?” I ask. She looks into my eyes and as if reading my thoughts, she replies, “It doesn’t hurt to dream.”
But doesn’t it, though?
Dreaming is what got us here. Dad always chasing his next fresh start. Dreaming is what took us from a nice two-story house with our swing set in the back to countless one-bedroom apartments and big city basements. “Ain’t it a dream?” is what Dad said when we pulled up in front of this trailer, the one at the back of the park, the one no one wanted. Yeah. It’s a dream come true.
The air in the trailer is thick with dust so Tess and I step out onto our one-step stoop for some fresh air. The neighborhood boys are walking down our street returning from the field next to our trailer. That was the only good thing about living here. We could watch the boys play football or soccer from our bedroom window while doing our homework. Looks like we missed today’s snowball fight, though. Tess and I are shivering standing on the stoop but the boys have their jackets slung over their shoulders or tied around their waists. As they laugh and joke, we can see their breath but they continue to make snowballs and kick ice at each other.
“Hey. There’s Brad.” Tess nudges me with her elbow. “You should go talk to him.”
“Why would I talk to him? He’s done nothing but stare at us the whole time we’ve lived here.”
She looks at me, her mouth a thin line. “Because you’ve been staring back.”
“Shut up,” I say, but there’s no force behind my words. “What’s the point, anyway? We’re leaving tonight.”
“He’s cute. What else do you need?”
“He’s a Generic Johnny, though.”
“We’re leaving tonight, remember?” she says. “Who cares?”
She’s not wrong. Brad is cute but he’s no different than any other boy in any other town. His hair the same sandy brown as a dozen others. His eyes the same blue. It can’t hurt to just talk to him, though, right? I can make a fool of myself and it won’t matter because I’ll never see him again. That doesn’t make it so bad. But as I picture myself walking over to him and think of what I might say, my heart starts to flutter and my mouth goes dry.
“Check it out, Brad.” the boy in a black T-shirt is tapping Brad on the shoulder and pointing at us. “It’s those girls.”
“Which one did you say you liked?” asks the boy kicking ice.
“Doesn’t matter,” says another one. “They look exactly the same.”
“Yeah, man.” The boy in the black T-shirt slaps Brad on the shoulder. “You can cheat on one with the other and you can’t get in trouble. It’s not your fault you can’t tell them apart.” Brad gives him a high-five but he at least has the decency not to chuckle.
Tess looks at me apologetically and mutters, “Generic jackasses is more like it,” and goes back inside. I can’t leave the stoop. I need the cold to soothe the flames in my cheeks. I lock eyes with Brad hoping he’ll show me that he’s not a Johnny and I haven’t been stealing glances with him for nothing. But I already know the answer. I’ve known it all along.
There’s a loud roar building in my ears and I hear a rattle that matches my labored breath. A high-pitched screech captures all of the boys’ attention. It is my horror when I see the object that has them so captivated. A beige and tan, two-toned, rusted out RV pulling into my driveway, the engine sputtering and knocking as it comes to complete stop. It has blocked my view of the boys but the pitch of their laughter says it all. The driver side door scrapes open and Dad jumps down. “Where’s Tess?” he asks running up the stoop and through the front door. “You guys have to check out our new home.”
I call us the Carnies. We’re the freaks in the matching sweaters and Dad, the king of the clowns.