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: Julie Walters Genre: Young Adult: Contemporary Title: Confessions of a High School Survivor: The Freshman Reinvention
The McDonalds jingle blares from Mara’s alarm clock as I sit up with a revelation, clarity like never before.
“Mar, I can’t live like this anymore. Something needs to change. I need to change…something…about my situation…my life, I mean.” I wait, rubbing the sleep out of my eyes with the heels of my palms.
“Mar, are you up?” I glance down and realize she’s fallen back to sleep. “Uuuhhh.”
I grab my pillow and whack her not-so-gently on her face. When you wake up with a life-altering revelation, you don’t want to wait for your best friend of six years to get around to waking up to discuss it.
“Jeez-zus, Jen. What’s your problem,” Mara whines sleepily, haphazardly waving her arms in the air to prevent another whack to the face.
Mara and I don’t go to the same school and up until this year we haven’t spent the summers together either. But after two years of begging, my parents finally agreed to send me to the overnight camp Mara has been going to for years. Eight weeks together without any parents in sight. It’s almost too good to be true.
It doesn’t leave us much time to come up with a workable plan before getting on the camp bus at 9 a.m.
“Get up.” I push on her insistently, rocking her body back and forth.
Her hands slowly find her closed eyes and rub them awake as she begins to sit up. Her expression is mixed, a combination of kill, kill, kill mixed with mild concern. Impatiently, I dive right in.
“Mar, I can’t continue living like I have for the past three years. I need to change something. I need to do something to make the bullying stop. 9th grade needs to be different or I’ll…”
“Tell your parents to move to this neighborhood so you can go to my school,” she interrupts groggily.
“Yeah, that’ll happen…not. Try again.”
“Jen, your main problem is that you lack self-confidence, so people at school pick on you. You need to believe in yourself more and care less about the nasty names. They’re just words.”
Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me. Who came up with that lie? Clearly someone who was never bullied.
“They’re like daggers, Mar. Each and every time someone calls me ‘Pubic Head,’ or ‘Jew Fro,’ or ‘Big Brown One,’ it feels like I’m being stabbed a thousand times.”
And what little self-confidence I have leaks out through those open wounds each and every day, bleeding me dry.
“GIRLS, LET’S GO,” Mara’s dad calls to us from the hall.
I grab Mara’s arm before she can get out of bed, clutching onto her like she is my only lifeline.
“Okay Jen, let’s brainstorm on the bus with Becca. She’ll know what to do. Come on. Let’s get going before my dad comes in here like some crazed lunatic.”
Becca is Mara’s best friend from camp. I’ve never met her so why would she care enough to help me? Besides, she doesn’t know anything about me.
The parking lot at the mall is buzzing with activity. The air, thick with bus exhaust, chokes the otherwise pleasant mid-June morning. Kids ranging in ages from seven to seventeen hug old friends hello after spending the school year apart. Parents assure their scared kids that camp will be a lot of fun if given a fair shake. And then there is me. I stand awkwardly between my parents, whom I have never consistently felt close with, and Mara’s family, who feel warmer today than usual. The bus doors can’t open quickly enough.
“Jennifer, give me your phone please,” my mom reminds me with her outstretched hand.
Camp is device-free, except for music, thank god! I’d die without my iPod.
“Let’s go!” Mara shouts as the bus door is thrown open.
I say a quick goodbye to my parents, thank Mara’s for allowing me to spend the night, and we run toward the gathering crowd.
“Wait for me,” my twelve-year-old sister, Shira, calls as she runs after us.
“Sit with Janey, Shira. You’re not sitting with me,” I yell over my shoulder.
Shira is also starting overnight camp this summer. Her best friend from school has been going for three years, but Janey is late, as usual.
“Just find a seat and save the one next to you for Janey,” I instruct as we board the bus.
We find an open row, and Mara drops our backpacks on the two seats across the aisle from ours, saving them for Becca. Our route will take us from the Plymouth Meeting Mall to the Oxford Valley Mall, driving east about thirty minutes. We’ll pick up the rest of the campers from our area, including Becca, and then drive three hours north into the Poconos to camp.
I’ve seen pictures of Becca but they don’t capture her shocking beauty, her spirit rippling away from her in a fog-like wave. Her hair is long, blond and wavy, and her eyes are a brilliantly clear green. As she walks toward our row, her smile illuminates the bus as Mara waves madly to her.
She is intimidatingly, disarmingly gorgeous, but I quickly discover that she is not at all pretentious or full of herself as one might expect. At first, I feel shy and sit in rapt attention basking in the aura of her other-worldliness. I snatch quick glances in those first few minutes, but avert my eyes to the floor just as quickly, not wanting to get caught staring.
As the bus starts moving, Mara squishes me between her and the window as she makes room for Becca to squeeze in with us.
“Becs,” Mara starts after the introductions have been made and pleasantries exchanged, “Jen’s been bullied by some kids at school for the past few years and she wants to do something to change herself so it’ll stop. She wants to wipe the slate clean and start 9th grade as a new Jen.”
Becca looks at me with sadness; pity creasing her brow as she cocks her head gently to the side to further consider my wretchedness. ‘I don’t want your pity,’ I think as I burn under her gaze.
“The problem is that she doesn’t know what or how to change that will be enough to get the bullies off her back. What do you think?” Mara continues as Becca considers my outward flaws.
This is much more uncomfortable than I imagined when Mara suggested enlisting Becca’s help this morning. Becca doesn’t know me. All she has to base her ideas on is how I look, and the first impression she formed when we were introduced a few minutes ago. She utters as much as she shifts uncomfortably in her half-seat, but after a few minutes of Mara urging her to be honest about what she sees, Becca begins her assessment cautiously.
“Well…um…okay…if I’m being honest…can I be honest? I don’t want to hurt your feelings.” I take a deep breath, grab onto the seat with my hands shoved firmly under my thighs, and nod.
“Yeah, she wants this, Becs…she needs this so just go for it,” Mara coaxes.
“I don’t know you yet so this is purely based on what I’m seeing. We should have this conversation again in a few days, once I get to know you a bit better.”
I nod, both of us feeling uncomfortable with this conversation.