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
There’s something perfect about waking up with the covers over your eyes. It’s more than the covers acting as a magical shield against ghosts setting up camp in your soul or that the covers protect against a tarantula crawling in your ears and laying eggs. It’s nothing sensible like that. It’s about the few muddled, confused moments when you’re not sure if the darkness is outside or within and you feel utterly and perfectly alone.
Tess usually has the blankets completely wrapped around her so I’m lucky to have a foot covered let alone enough blanket to cocoon myself. In these rare, sheltered moments I daydream of what it would be like to have a life of my own. A life where I can have control over how warm I can be at night. A life where it’s not an act of betrayal because I want to wear a grey sweater instead of a purple one. I can eat the second peanut butter cup. I can have a name that doesn’t have an implied ampersand. Good&Plenty, M&M, Jess&Tess. Just Jess. Most importantly, though, a life where I can do what I want without worrying how it will impact others. Dad can do it. Why can’t I?
It doesn’t take long for people to realize you’re enjoying yourself before they do what they can to ruin it. I hear noise coming from downstairs. Dad’s idea of letting us know it’s time to get up is banging the cabinet doors and filling the coffee pot with a fireman’s hose. With the loudest sigh I can muster, I toss the blanket off of my head and look to Tess to join me in my annoyance. It’s still dark so I can’t tell if she looking at me. I slide my hand over to give her a he’s-doing-it-again nudge but all I find is a cold empty space. I immediately tuck and roll over the imaginary don’t-cross-this-line border and spread eagle as wide as I can across the whole bed. Another rare treat.
We haven’t unpacked a lamp yet but I’ve learned how to maneuver through strange places in the dark. I’m able to get out of the room and find the hall light switch without breaking any toes. No longer worried about falling, I work up the best do-you-have-to-be-so-loud dirty look as I stomp down the stairs. I shimmy through the stack of boxes lining the foyer ready to fire my frustration at Dad with both barrels as soon as we make eye contact but I’m caught off guard once I realize where all of the noise is coming from. Tess is kneeling on the living room floor, showered and dressed already, digging through boxes and pulling things out of one and placing them in another. Behind her is a small stack that she has branded with not only her name but with her irritating cat stickers. We used to put stickers on everything we liked but I gave that up in fifth grade.
“What are you doing?” I ask.
“Dad said that he will sleep on the pullout couch so I can have my own room.” She corrects, “We can have our own rooms. I’m just separating our stuff.” She points to all of the boxes behind her. “Isn’t it exciting?” She’s jumping up and down and practically singing and all that makes me want to do is run over and kick the cat stickers in the face. She’s looking to me to say I’m excited too but “Why would you want your own room?” comes out instead.
Dad considers he’s “Father of the Year” because we’ve never been late for school. How can we be late when we get there before anyone authorized to take attendance? We scope out a remote spot to settle in and wait for school to start. Some place remote enough to be out of the mainstream but still has a good view of the front doors. You have to figure things out before they figure out you.
Over the years we’ve developed games to help us forget the cold, the wet, or the numb. Games like, at this school, will “Mr. Hearts-a-Flutter” (Tess’s term) be the captain of the football, basketball, or baseball team? Will “Miss Pretty-n-Popular” be a blonde, brunette, or deadhead? Tess’s favorite game is developing elaborate schemes to overthrow the current popular girls and making Mr. Flatliner (my term) fall head over heels for her. She can spend hours wondering in what romantic way he will ask her to Homecoming, but since this is our senior year, all talk is of Prom. I spend my hours just wondering if we will stay long enough to go to prom.
“Ok. Here we go,” Tess says as the first car pulls up in front of the school. “I’m betting it’s a Banger.”
“No way. Not on the first day. It’s going to be a Tunie.” Tess’s probably right but what’s the point of playing the game if I just agree.
The car door opens and we hear a “Bye Mom” immediately followed by a muffled “Have a good day, sweetie.” That must be written in the “Drop Your Kid off at School” chapter of the Parent Handbook because they all say it. Bangers are usually boys and, sure enough, a boy jumps out and sprints for the school before the car door bangs behind him. He runs as if he’s late for some Geek Squad appointment. He’s running fast enough to where his backpack (loaded with what we can only assume are empty notebooks, a half empty pencil box, an inhaler, and something Star Wars or Orc related) flops about in an opposite rhythm to his step causing a loud banging noise. “Ha!” Tess says. “Told you. A Banger.”
I stick with Tunie as the next to arrive and as the second kid gets out of his parent’s car with headphones on (allowing him to fight the system and further develop his bad boy rock star persona by pretending not to hear the “Have a nice day, sweetie”) and starts milling around looking for a place to play air guitar or drum on the sidewalk. I’m the one that gets to say “Ha!”
Other players in the game are the Flakes who have their noses shoved so far in a book you can only see their dandruff. There are the Scramblers who use the morning to finish last night’s homework. We’ve done this so long, we can tell which kids will disappear around the corner. We know which couples will skitter off. School is about to start when the Beeslappers show up. These are the second set of kids who jump out of their parent’s car, only this time they jump before it comes to a complete stop. They run as fast as they can toward the building, waving their arm behind them (waving bye to their parents, we know, but they look like their fending off a swarm of bees) and yelling “I’m late!” as a response to “Honey, wait!” The faces change but the parade is always the same.
I call us the Carnies. We’re the oddities from places unknown. We roll into town, dazzle the locals for a while, and then vanish without a second thought.