Sunday, May 15, 2016

1st 5 Pages May Workshop - Walters Rev 1

Name: Julie Walters
Genre: Young Adult, contemporary
Title: Confessions of a High School Survivor: The Freshman Reinvention

“Have a great summer, Pubic Head,” he yells mockingly at my back after I’ve already passed him on my way out of this god forsaken hellhole of a school. 

He can’t see my now beet-red face or smell the sweat that dampens me instantly or feel the tremors wracking my body. He can’t see my desperate soul leaking out through the fresh wounds ripped open by his words, bleeding me dry. Not that he’d care.

This is what I know about life at fourteen: It Sucks. Capital S.

But the way I see it, I can continue spending my time wallowing in my misery, focusing on nothing except the epic Greek tragedy that is my life, or I can play an active role in my own reinvention and try to forge a new path. A path not yet discovered. One that leads to a life not filled with self-loathing or urgent wishes to be born into a different body or a different family in a different town in a different state where people aren’t assholes.  

Because wishing for something or someone else to change is a futile exercise.

It’s ass-crack early on a Saturday morning in mid-June, an hour before the bus is scheduled to transport kids being shipped off to overnight camp for eight weeks. It took two years of begging, arguing, promising, pleading and rationalizing for my parents to acquiesce. Eight non-parentally supervised weeks in the Poconos with my best-of-the-best friend, Mara. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime and it’s my chance to do the impossible, to metamorphose. If I fail, if I can’t instigate a hiccup in the social disaster of my life, I question my strength to persevere beyond 9th grade.

“Hello. Anybody home?” Mara asks as she snaps her fingers in front of my face.

“Sorry. Lost in thought,” I mumble as I pick my cuticles bloody.

Mara and I have known each other for seven years but we weren’t always friends. When we met, I was the new kid at our synagogue and Mara knew everyone in our 3rd grade Hebrew school class. She was the popular girl and I was the new nerd: shy, nail biting and awkward. That was also the year I took a vacation from brushing my teeth in protest of my miserable life, which, upon reflection, didn’t work in my favor.
It didn’t take long for us to find each other though, which happened during a 3rd grade Hebrew school overnight at the synagogue. My class was watching a scary movie, which I hate, so I opted for endless rounds of Candy Crush in the hall. Mara doesn’t like scary movies either, and walked out shortly thereafter to find me sitting by myself in the empty hall. 
She sat down next to me, introduced herself and we started talking. She offered me a piece of gum and as they say, the rest is history. We’ve been inseparable ever since. 

“Girls, we need to leave in forty minutes. Go eat breakfast and throw your bags into the trunk,” Mara’s dad instructs from just outside of her open bedroom door.

“Okay,” we call in unison.

Mara’s friend from camp joined us yesterday morning for the night as an informal ‘Meet and Greet’ so I would know another person in our bunk. Becca’s hair is long, blond and wavy, and her eyes are a dazzling, bright green. At first I felt shy, snatching quick glances before averting my eyes to the floor, not wanting to get caught staring. But her kind spirit ripples away from her in a fog-like wave, a constant blanket of warmth that makes me feel comfortable, less awkward. Accepted.

Walking out of Mara’s bathroom with my toiletries bag after several nights at Mara’s house, still struggling to wrangle my massive helmet of curly hair into a ponytail, I see Mara and Becca sitting on the bed I slept in last night with my yearbook clutched between them. Their faces masks of horror. I drop my hair and the band as I rush to snatch the book from them, blood rushing to color my cheeks.

“Please. Don’t,” I manage to mutter as I close the book with trembling hands, sweat beading along my forehead and above my lip instantly. I know it’s too late. I can tell by their expressions that they already saw it.

Mara pats the bed next to her indicating that I should sit with them before asking, “Jen, why didn’t you show this to me? I thought maybe this had, you know, stopped.”

“I dunno,” I whisper as I inspect the comforter pattern with my finger. “Whatever. It doesn’t matter.”

“It does matter. How long has this been going on, Jen?” Becca asks as she reaches across Mara to hold my quivering hand, saving my cuticles from further massacre.

“5th grade but it didn’t fully catch on and go grade-wide viral until 6th. Now it’s of epidemic proportion among the students in my class. I’ve asked them to stop, but,” My voice trails off as my stomach clenches and threatens to explode even though it is empty.

“They call you Pubic Head, Jen? And Jew Fro? And that picture. How could someone draw that in your yearbook? This is a disgusting outrage,” Becca spits, her voice thick with incredulity. “I’m so sorry, Jen.” She squeezes my hand, forcing me to look at her exquisite face as my eyes fill with liquid despair.

“It’s my fault,” I offer as I attempt to reign in my emotions, to force them back into the tightly lidded bottle of my heart. “I mean look at me. I’m a mess. I make it easy for them.”

“Bullshit, Jen. They don’t have the right,” Becca states with the bravado of a politician as she not-so-subtly gives me a once-over.

We sit in silence for a few moments before Becca suggests the very thing I need right now. “Jen, how about if I help you with a total makeover. We have all summer to perfect it before the start of 9th grade. What do you think?”

Without needing to consider her proposal, “That sounds amazing. Yes. That’s exactly what I need, transmogrification. Steal their ammo like a summer thief.” I feel giddy with excitement, but the feeling is fleeting. “How?”

“Jen, you’ve totally come to the right person. We’ll start with your hair and eyebrows. Those are quick fixes but they’re invaluable life-long lessons. Then we’ll talk fashion. You’re hiding under way too much clothing. And you’ve got to stop biting your nails.” The elation swells as I climb across Mara to hug Becca.

“Thank you,” I whisper, too grateful to produce a stronger sound.

“And we need to work on your nonexistent self-esteem.” Mara adds sympathetically as I squeeze myself between her and Becca. “It’s paralyzing your potential.”

“You mean we shouldn’t just put lipstick on this pig?” We all laugh as Mara punches my leg with a playful fist.

Chapter 2:

I’ve been living in Becca’s clothes since camp started, although it still feels awkward to wear clothing that shows off my body instead of hiding it from the world. And from myself. 

I pull and tug on the clingy tank tops and adjust and readjust the waist of the shorts. When I pull the shorts down to hide my thick thighs, there isn’t enough above to hide my muffin top. It’s become a constant game of fabric shifting, and it drives Becca and Mara crazy.


  1. Hi Julie,
    I like the way the story starts now. The first three paras are great. But the next three are rather verbose - and they kind of sound like a speech waiting to be delivered. Maybe you could compress the essence into just a couple of powerful sentences? And I guess this comment could apply to many of the following paras where there is too much of description.

    That said, I like the way the narrative is progressing now. The characters of the three girls is much more defined. Although I was surprised you used the word 'spits' for Becca when you've described her as a kind spirit. Seems incongruous. Also, it seems too soon for them to talk of a makeover. I'm still not clear as to why Jen is being bullied - is it because she is a Jew or is it because of her physical appearance? If it is the latter, a bit of description would be good for the reader to connect better with her.

    Lastly, I really like the way you've portrayed Jen's awkwardness with regards to wearing Becca's clothes.

    Can't wait to read the final version. Am curious to know what the girls will be up to in the camp!


  2. You’ve put some nice pieces into play: showing the bullying and the way it cuts Jen deep, the friends rallying to help her. Love P2, P3, and phrasing that shows off voice like: “epic Greek tragedy that is my life.”

    I’m still having some of the same issues over the way the concept of bullying is presented that I outlined in my comments last week.

    Wonderings…How is it her close friends haven’t known about the bullying until now? It feels a little superficial for the “fixes” to be focused on physical appearance. These friends seem like they’d be awesome moral support beyond a makeover. I’d love to see them have to work harder to get Jen to admit to the bullying. Wouldn’t it be really hard for Jen to step out of her comfort zone to admit the troubles to them if she’s hidden them for so long? Revealing her personal hell and accepting “backup” might be the “aha” moment for Jen to start the wheels of her “transmogrification” (LOVE that word choice) turning.

    I do feel you are still giving us information up front that we don’t need at this point. It’s better to get us inside Jen’s head and her conflict and feather in details as the story progresses. For example: Jen and Mara meeting when they ditched on a scary movie in 3rd grade – is there any kind of ghost story camp scene where they bow out together and you can bring up their first meeting at that point? In these first five, focus on giving us the essential Jen, illuminating her problem in a way that convinces us to root for her and join her on her journey of change.

    Best of the best to you as you add revision brushstrokes to your work - sending virtual coffee and chocolate.


  3. Better! A few fine point issues: Not sure a 14yo boy would choose the insult "Pubic Head" to yell. If Mara & Jen met in grade 3 and have known each other 7 years, they'd be in 10th grade and not 14 years old. First few pp's are nonetheless much stronger--more showing instead of telling. After that, though, you drop back a little too far into exposition mode (a "meet and greet" for camp? stuff like that bogs readers down). I kind of feel like everything is moving too fast for the first 5--which is crazy because I know writers often get dinged for too much set-up or a too-slow opening. But, in this ms, I feel like Becca becomes a friend too quickly, the "lipstick on a pig" plan is enacted too fast--and the stakes aren't really high enough. I know Jen wants to transform over the summer but that's a fairly common plot choice and what makes such a story super-powerful is the WHY--so she can attract a particular boy? run for student council president? get her mom off her back...? Similarly, WHY does Becca want to help Jen so quickly and intensely? Is there a hint at a consequence or payment Jen will have to make? And WHY is Mara in the mix, besides to function as the person who introduces Becca and Jen? Will there be some sort of confrontation here? will Mara become jealous of Jen? of Becca? of their friendship? What will Mara lose by sharing her two best friends with each other? That's a very interesting question. I feel like you need to sort of grow out these little shoots to make the reader care more about the transformation Jen is clearly going to attempt in the next eight weeks. Great luck with your next revision. You are clearly working hard and developing your manuscript. Keep up the fantastic work this week! Can't wait to read the next version! - Stasia

  4. Hi Julie,

    I think this is a much stronger beginning and that you totally rose to the challenge! How do you feel about this change?

    You’ve used a lot more showing and I think you’ve set up a great way to reveal Jen’s suffering, and increase our empathy for her, and keep us reading.

    Becca is introduced more smoothly and without telling. Then
    Having Mara and Becca discover the mean things written in Jen’s yearbook works much better! Especially since we don’t quite know what it is they’ve found at first. And you show us Jen’s mortification and embarrassment. Perfect! It’s horrifying when Mara says, “They called you Pubic Head, Jen!” and is outraged.

    It packs way more wallop, having Jen’s two friends discover it than having an unknown guy call Jen that in the first sentence, before we even know her. I don’t think you need that first paragraph. It steals the thunder of the later revelation. You could even cut the whole first page and start at the sleepover. You get to the problem quickly and efficiently and hook us in. We can learn how Jen feels and what she thinks about all that later after she’s earned our empathy and we know something about her.
    When Jen says “’Sorry. Lost in thought,’ I mumble as I pick my cuticles bloody.” If you cut the first paragraph guy calling her pubic head, you could add a bit there where she admits she was just thinking about the awful last day of school. Only don’t tell us what yet. We’ll figure it out in a few more paragraphs.

    And that Becca and Mara are going to transmogrify /make-over Jen is great. And there’s humor!

    In chapter two, you show us perfectly how Jen feels in Becca’s clothes in the second paragraph. (So, you don’t need “although it still feels awkward to wear clothing that shows off my body instead of hiding it from the world. And from myself.” )

    Overall, great work, Julie!


  5. Hey Julie,
    This revision presents a vastly different version of your story. It showcases the characters better and has more give and take between them. Nice job.

    I feel like you should lead with "This is what I know..." It would be a strong opening statement that sets the tone for the piece and shows some of Jen's personality right away.

    While I wanted to know about Becca in the first version, now I know too much. Her description comes off a bit forced and her connection to Jen contrived. She's only met her and she's taken on the job of transforming her? Why? What's in it for her? It also pushes the importance of Mara into the background.

    Also, the lipstick on a pig seems harsh. Aren't they trying to stop the bullying? I had to re-read it several times to figure out who was making the comment. Was it self-deprecating humor on Jen's part? If so, it doesn't help you build sympathy for the character. If the theme is bullying and how to overcome it, then you want to create a sympathetic character.

    Consider combining the three paragraphs about meeting Mara into one and condensing it by talking about how they are similar. It felt like you told a lot about the specifics of their first meeting without telling anything significant. Then you glossed over it by jumping into the gum and talk and now we're inseparable. She's awkward and Mara's popular. It would seem to take more for that friendship to blossom.

    Best of luck with revisions!

  6. What an awesome revision! You really did some serious work here, and it definitely shows. It’s already way more compelling this week, and I’d like to point to a few things that I loved:

    — The obvious discomfort that Jen has wearing Becca’s clothing. This is described beautifully, and is done in a way that shows us that she’s uncomfortable without needing to tell us — it’s done so well, in fact, that I don’t even think you need the line about “hiding my body.”
    — the increased personality that shows through word choices and descriptions: “god forsaken hellhole of a school,” “Sucks with a capital S,” “the social disaster of my life.” All these things give Jen a great, unique voice. I also loved Mara's line “you mean we shouldn’t just put lipstick on this pig?” I thought that was a great bit of characterization for her.

    I agree with most of what Ann said in her comments above in terms of ways to improve the piece for next week. I will also add that I feel like the relationship between Becca and Jen goes from 0-100 pretty quickly, as do the plans for the makeover. I’d love for it to be a slower burn.

    I think these pages would also benefit if Jen describes her emotions less directly — right now it feels a little bit melodramatic at certain points (like here: “He can’t see my desperate soul leaking out through the fresh wounds ripped open by his words”). More of the pulling on the shorts type of showing — that was great, and with more of that, this will be so great! Can’t wait to see next week’s. Great job on this!

  7. I am really confused on what they were doing with her yearbook? Aren't they at Maura's house? Did they really go through her stuff to find it or did Jen leave it out?

    The lipstick on the pig comment may need to be changed. I know it's an expression but I wouldn't let any of my friend use a pig to describe them. They just said that need to work on her self esteem issues and now they are laughing about it. Doesn't add up to me.

    I like this beginning with Beca being there already. But you say that she and Maura are inseparable. They don't go to the same school right? Do you mean inseparable other than school? You might want to clarify this as it may seem like Mara isn't the best friend since she didn't know her friend was being bullied.

    I love Jen's attitude. I think it is so age appropriate. I do agree that the whole thing happens fast. Maybe just suggest the make over but no exact plan as to what they will do. Then in chapter two you can talk more about the makeover like you did with the clothes.

    Good luck on the rest of the revisions. I think this is shaping up to be a great introduction to your book!