Sunday, May 8, 2016

1st 5 Pages May Workshop - Langdon

Name: Kate Langdon
Genre: Middle Grade; Contemporary
Title: The Great Rainy Schmidt 

My name’s Lorraine Blatz Schmidt, and before you flip your wig about how stupid of a name that is, you should know I actually go by Rainy, and that my fighter pilot call sign is Rain of Death. I think Rainy is way better than Lorraine, but obviously Rain of Death is the best of all three. Mom only ever calls me Lorraine (or “LORRAINE BLATZ SCHMIDT!” when I’m in trouble), but sometimes Dad calls me Rain of Death, which I really do appreciate. I think all pilots probably prefer their call signs over their real names. Except if they have a bad one maybe, like Chuckles or Brillo-pad. 

Before I tell you anything else, you should probably know that what happened to me this summer is worse than having a name as stupid as Lorraine Blatz Schmidt. A lot worse. I’m not going to get into the details though, because this isn’t one of those boo-hoo crybaby stories.

This is a story about how I learned to fly. 

It all starts on the first Sunday of September, the day before the first day of fifth grade. I’m in the living room, watching one of the most classic aerial fights in the history of World War II — the one where my hero, The Great Bambinzo, is almost brought down by his arch-nemesis, the Silver Devil. 

“The Silver Devil,” I whisper to myself. I shiver. Just saying his name out loud is enough to send an icy chill down my spine. 

Mom is on the phone in the kitchen, and despite the BLASTS! and the BOOMS! of the scrappy P-51 dogfight, I can hear her conversation. 

“It’s been hard,” she says, sighing. “Gerry’s been working double shifts, but we’re barely making ends meet. And Lorraine… oh, my sweet Lorraine. She hasn't been outside all summer. And tomorrow will be the first time she’s really seen any of her friends. Since, you know. The Accident.”

The Accident. Mom always says it the same way, tilting her head to the side and lowering her voice. I’ve heard her use The Accident voice in other conversations, too.

“Susan’s husband. You know… the alcoholic.”

“Jennifer and Dan haven’t spoke since, well. You know. The divorce.” 

I turn up the volume on the TV. 

The Great Bambinzo has shaken off the Silver Devil for now, but his left wing is smoking, and he’s suddenly flanked by two more enemy planes! In a classic lift, he pulls above them, and then he’s firing, his bullets raining down… rat-a-tat-tat!… he hits one! The enemy plane goes down whistling — PEUUWWWWWWWW — and then explodes — KABOOOOOOM — in a great big fiery ball!

“Lorraine,” Mom says, poking her head in from the kitchen. “Will you turn that ruckus down? I’m on the phone.” 

I make a big show of lowering the volume a few levels with the remote and then turn back to the TV.

“Actually, Jessica,” Mom says, “I should go. Can you still stop by next Thursday? Oh, that’s great. See you then. Thanks again for calling.” Mom comes over and plucks the remote from my hands. 

“Hey!” I protest as she clicks off the TV. “It hasn’t even gotten to the best part yet!”

“You can watch more later. It’s a beautiful day,” she says, sweeping her arms toward the window. “Go outside. Get some fresh air, a little sunshine.”

“I don’t need fresh air,” I grumble. “What I need is to see the Great Bambinzo exact his revenge on the Silver Devil.” 

“Go,” Mom says, pointing to the screen door. “I’ll bring you some lunch in a couple of minutes.” 

I sigh dramatically, loud enough so Mom will hear me on her way back into the kitchen. If she does, she pretends not to notice. I sigh again, but this one’s just for me. 

I spin around, and try to figure out what my route will be. I still haven’t gotten used to the turning part. 

“These turns are a real tough nut to crack,” I say out loud. That’s one of the Great Bambinzo’s favorite phrases. He also says things like horsefeathers, jeepers, and ah, applesauce! This one time, in a radio interview, he was talking about some lady he thought was a good dancer and he called her a ducky shincracker. I laughed so hard that orange juice came out of my nose. 

I maneuver around the couch alright, but I bump into the end table with a loud crack. The lamp rattles, wobbling back and forth, and for a minute I think it’s going to crash to the floor. I’m strangely disappointed when it doesn’t.

I go outside. After a few minutes, Mom joins me on the porch with a PB&J and a bunch of purple grapes. 

“Thanks,” I say, as she sets it down in front of me. She’s still hovering by the door, and I can tell she wants to say something else. I look up at her. “What is it?”

“Well, I was just thinking,” she says, dragging out her words. “Why don’t you give Brie or Sarah a call? Catch up, see how their summers were? You haven’t talked to either of them in a while.”

I pop a grape into my mouth and look into the yard. Brie and Sarah have been my best friends since kindergarten. We always hang out at Sarah’s house, because she’s got this killer diller attic that her parents turned into a playroom for her and her brother. You can only get in by tugging on a string that hangs from the ceiling, which pulls down a rickety old ladder. It squeaks and trembles as you climb, and it’s thrilling, because you know that at any second it could fall apart and crash to the floor with you on it. 

But honestly, It hurts something fierce to think about that attic. I can’t even remember the last time I was there. And let me tell you, it sure doesn’t help that Mom doesn’t get it. Why don’t you go over to Sarah’s house? she’s been asking me. Why not, Lorraine? Why not?

Well, I want to holler, you can’t exactly climb up a rickety old ladder when you’re stuck in a stupid wheelchair, now can you?

I take a big bite of my sandwich and shrug. “I’ll see them at school tomorrow. I’ll talk to them then.”

Mom’s making the face like there’s still more she wants to say, but this time, I’m the one who pretends not to notice.

“Alright, well…” Mom says, trailing off. She’s looking at a big black crow that’s flapped onto our backyard fence, right by her vegetable garden.

“That’s the thief who’s been stealing my cherry tomatoes!” she says, pointing at the bird with one accusing finger. She runs inside and comes back out with a broom. She marches down the stairs and into the yard. 

 “Shoo!” she yells, thrusting the broom at the crow. “Shoo!”

The crow hops off the fence, flapping out of reach. He stays like that for a minute and then, horsefeathers!, I can hardly believe my eyes, he executes a perfect dive bomb — like a small, feathered Junker 87 Stuka — right to the cherry tomato plant! He grabs a tomato in his long black beak and flaps his wings again, hovering just above Mom’s broom. 

Excellent! I want to tell him. Full marks. Now that’s what it takes to be a fighter pilot. Gumption.


  1. Kate, thanks for submitting your pages.


    Well, well, well.

    Where do I begin?

    This is excellent.

    The rhythm is perfect.
    The dialogue is wonderful.
    The characterization is spot-on.
    And the idea itself: a young girl who is obsessed with fighter pilots, but restrained by her wheelchair is unique and emotionally interesting.

    As soon as I started reading, I fell into the rhythm of it and it was clear sailing. Good writing should be effortless to read and that is what you have achieved.

    This is such a joy to read.

    I don't have anything else to add other than "More please."

  2. I love the beginning! You pulled me in immediately, engaging me with your writing style, the immediate feeling like I know Rainy and a bit about her spunky personality. When I got to the end of the ‘learned to fly’ sentence, I felt like throwing my arms up and yelling ‘YEAH Rainy! Tell me all about it!’

    The pace works for me, and I would definitely continue reading. You pull me in from the start and keep me interested and focused for the remainder of the submission. I don’t get a feel for what Rainy wants though. What is her issue to be solved throughout the book? I would like to know by now. I can guess that she will struggle with finding a place in her world outside of her home now that she is in a wheelchair but I don’t want to guess.

    The voices of the characters are distinct, I get a sense of their personalities, the dialogue is engaging and supportive, and the mix of narrative and dialogue works. I am definitely rooting for her even though I don’t know her motives, which is excellent. I would definitely continue reading. Very well done!

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  4. Hi, Kate!

    First of all, thank you so much for submitting your work; from these 5 pages alone, I have fallen in love with your voice and with Lorraine's character. What beautiful prose! What a strong voice! I can tell this novel is really special, and feel confident in saying that many people would enjoy reading this. Well done, indeed!

    In looking for ways to polish up your opening, there's really only one thing that stands out to me: your genre says "MG Contemporary," yet this read as MG Historical to me! I think it's all the clever terms you're using, and I do *not* think you should get rid of them; however, I think you need to find a way to let us know that this story is happening in the here-and-now. A reference to texting friends on a cell phone, for instance, could be helpful. Just throw in some 2016 references so that readers know the general time period; that way, they'll know the phrases Lorraine is using are part of what make her unique, but don't mean she's living in the past!

    Good luck with this!!

  5. I am all for the female fighter pilot! I love this idea. One of the things that crossed my mind when I was reading this is why don't her friends come to see her? I know that they all like to hang out at Sarah's but if these are her best friends then why don't they come by themselves? Maybe you could point out that she rejected their offers to visit or something along those lines.

    Also, I am confused as to how long ago this accident was. She says that she cannot remember the last time she was in the attic. Has it really been that long since she has seen her friends?

    I do agree that the intro does confuse me about the time frame for this book.

    I love the big show she makes when dealing with her mom. I think it is perfect for the age. I really enjoyed these pages and I cannot wait to see what you come up with next week!

  6. Hi Kate,
    Rainy might hate her real name, but I love 'Lorraine Blatz Schmidt'- it has a nice ring to it! The first paragraph pulls you into Rainy's life and introduces a bit about her parents, which is great. And the story flows really well, with the right pace to keep the reader engaged.

    There really aren't many flaws to point out, but if I have to . . .
    1. I'd do away with para 2. It doesn't seem to add much to the story.
    2. There's a general confusion of tenses that I'm sure you'll look into in the revision.
    3. While the story itself seems to be in sync with Middle Grade, there are places where the language is a notch higher.

    Saving the best for last, I really loved the description of the crow diving the most! Can't wait to see what you'll do to revise this already great piece.

    All the best

  7. Kate,
    Your middle grade voice is spot on. This passage reads like a spunky, older Junie B. Jones (and we know how well that series did).

    The pacing is excellent. You reveal just enough to get and keep the reader's attention.

    I do wonder why you chose to address the audience and not use a straight narrative. I could go either way. I'm sure her attitude would come out no matter which approach you chose.

    Not that there's much to nit pick but I had a few things that gave me pause.
    First, I don't think you need the tag "I whisper to myself." I feel the shiver is much more potent.

    Second, I was confused by the mother's phone conversation. The details didn't add anything to the story but rather left me confused. Are you painting her as a gossip? Maybe Rainy could make a comment about that. She certainly would have an opinion.

    Finally, there are a couple of minor proofreading issues you'll probably catch in the revise.

    In terms of the setting, you indicated contemporary but this would work well as historical, especially with the language. It would also set the piece apart in terms of interest from publishers (I would think). The aerial fight scene is reminiscent of Snoopy and the Red Baron and gives it a nostalgic feeling. I was right there rat-a-tat-tatting along.

    Great job!

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  9. Hi Kate,

    The Great Rainy Schmidt is off to a flying start! Rainy (aka Rain of Death) has such a great voice. She’s funny, wry even, has passion for WWII flying aces, is upbeat, has spunk and determination, and that’s all before we find out she’s in a wheelchair. While I started to get a clue, I wasn’t sure, and the revelation was unexpected and compelling. You ease us into this fact beautifully. Even better, she’s tough and refuses to be a boo-hoo-cry-baby. A noble, totally sympathetic and fun protagonist. With gumption. So important in middle grade.

    You use Rainy’s (and great name) POV skillfully. Through her eyes we also get a clear picture of Mom and her “accident voice!” Ha! We know she’s upset, but also matter of fact, and pushing Rainy to get outside, get out to see friends, etc. The humor works brilliantly.

    We know school starts tomorrow. How is that looking to Rainy? I know she won’t complain, but does she admire the crow’s gumption because she knows she’s about to need a bushel of it?

    I trust we’ll get the story about “the accident,” but I’m curious and wonder if her situation is permanent or temporary. If it’s only for a few months, I’m not as worried for her as if she must adjust to this way of life forever.

    She’s telling this story from the future? About how she learned to fly?

    Nit-pick: even though I liked her voice so much, the first paragraph felt a little long to me the first time I read it, as it went on for several sentences about her name. The humor is great, but consider tightening a tad?

    I want to keep reading this story!


  10. Thanks for all the feedback, everyone! I'll be noodling this revision all weekend. Hopefully I can address the problems/unclear moments/questions in the next go 'round!