Sunday, September 11, 2016

1st 5 Pages September Workshop - Gnann Rev 1

Name: Richard Gnann
Genre: Young Adult
Title: Your Best Pitch
Ed Reese propeller-ed his bat around twice. Same old Ed. Same old hotdog act.
Ed leaned over the plate and flexed his muscles. We were in the bottom of the seventh of a seven-inning game.  A base runner stood on first carrying the tying run and Ed was hunting glory. If he hit one out of the park, he wins the game for the Astros.
I was pitching for the Alpharetta Mets in the Northside Rec Championship game and I had two strikes on Ed. “Go with your best pitch.” That’s what my dad had always said. It’s what my dad would say now, if he were here.
“Reach back Jimbo.” Tony Sparrow was my catcher and I was his pitcher, but we were more than just battery mates. Mom called us Batman and Robin, and Tony jerked my mind back into focus.
“Gotcha on radar, Jimbo.” Tony always said he was ground control guiding in a fighter jet, and he gave me the same target I had been throwing to since we were nine years old.
My fastball sizzled and I watched it carve a slice off the back corner of the plate. “Strrrrrrrrrrike three. You’re out!”
Reese slammed his bat into the ground and his red hair shook. He dragged the bat behind him and stared at the umpire, then turned away and spit on the ground toward me.
“That’s’ ok Ed, another bad call.” Ed’s dad always pulled one of those old-man lawn chairs up close to the screen near home plate and slurped boiled peanuts the whole game. “You would’ve smoked anything close.”
I knew his last words were for me. I had handled Ed all year, and the back of my neck got hot.
“Get the next batter!” My mom had on her lucky Mets cap and her lucky big round red sunglasses. She clapped her hands in front of her chin twice. It was her lucky clap. “Come on, Jimbo, next pitch!”
Even from the bleachers, Mom could see right through me. No one wants a mind reading mom, but she did set me back on track. I needed one more out for the Championship. Forget everything but the next pitch.
Tony pounded his catcher’s mitt.  “Finish, Jimbo.”
I just blew the doors off the best batter in the whole league. All I had to do now was get Billy Pepper out. Billy was a Punch - and - Judy - hitting thirteen-year old. I would get the out, my Mets would be Northside Champs, and I would start travel ball next week with the best team in the state.
I could see Coach Perno in the afternoon shadow raise his index finger and wag it at Tony. “One.”
I stepped off the rubber.
“Time.” Tony was beside me on the mound before I could wipe my forehead. “Coach Perno said throw your fastball three times.”
I just stared at the baseball, studying it like it could tell my fortune.
“What are we crazy thinking about? Coach always let’s you call your own game, but he’s right.”
Tony was almost my best friend ever, but I would decide what pitch to throw. I wanted to cross up Billy with a curve ball.
Tony slapped his mitt. “You sure?”
The doubt in Tony’s face was honest, but my mind was set. “I’m sure.”
“Ok Jimbo, I’m in. Let’s crazy do it.”
Tony jogged back behind the plate and set the target. My curveball dove from the letters to the knees, but snapped inside for ball one. Billy’s eyes were big as hubcaps. His bat didn’t flinch.
I kicked the dirt and the red dust cloud floated on the late afternoon breeze toward right field. I was now behind in the count and for no good reason. You don’t get points for fooling the batter. The idea is to get outs.
I came back with a fastball and Billy took again. “Strrrrrike one.”
Tony fired the ball back. “Just like that!”
Tony’s message came in loud and clear, but my mind drifted. Billy was young, but he had seen my pitches before. Time for a changeup.
The pitch stayed high. I saw Billy close his eyes, but he lucked into a dribbler foul up the first baseline.
The Astro dugout exploded like Billy had powered a single to center.
“That’s it!”
“You can hit him.”
The pine trees leaned over the third baseline fence and the American Legion field scoreboard lights shined bright in their shade.
Mets 3            Astros 2
strikes 2         outs 2
inning 7
Screams from parents and friends caused my neck to tingle. My heart was racing the last hundred yards of a marathon heading for a photo finish.
Billy tapped the plate once with his bat and loosened his shoulders with a practice swing. Everyone could see that Billy now believed he could win this game. I shoved the thought away. Everyone knew Billy had about a one in a thousand chance of catching up to my fastball. Everyone but Billy, and his coolness became a trickle of doubt rolling down to my fingers causing me to grip the ball too tight. I didn’t hear the usual sizzle. Instead of carving off the corner, my fastball split the plate down the middle.
Billy’s eyes were open now and he swung as hard as he could. It was just hard enough to pop a puny fly into right field. The ball was going to come down for an easy out and I started jumping up and down.
Then I stopped.
Because the road passed close to the ball field, the right field fence angled sharply back toward the infield the last two feet of fair territory. That made the foul pole T-ball distance and the pounding in my ears drowned out the screams of the crowd when Billy’s puny fly turned into cruise missile rocketing fair toward the fence.
A thousand to one chance to touch my fastball and a thousand to one chance to land fair over the fence. That’s a million to one chance that came home for Billy Pepper when the ball bounced fair off the high chain link beyond first base and tapped the hood of a passing convertible.
From the mound, I had a perfect spot to watch the Astros push Billy to the ground and pile on top. I turned away, only to see my own teammates trudge off the field after losing the Championship because of my stupidity. They didn’t even stop in the dugout before shuffling to their speechless parents.
“Tough one, Jimbo.” I hadn’t seen Coach Perno walk out to the mound. “Let’s go, ok?”
He turned to lead me across the grass of the infield.
Then he stopped and turned back. “You’re one heck of a pitcher. And I know your dad would have been proud of you.”
Maybe, but I had never been brainless picking pitches when my dad was here. I never had any doubts when Dad was here.

Coach Perno wanted to say the right thing, but his last words carved a hole in my chest. “We would have all given anything to have your dad here.”
My dad would never be here. Exactly one year ago, we buried my dad.
Today was the second worst day of my life.
Then it got worse.


  1. Hi Richard! You've obviously done a lot of revising. Great work! I'll leave my notes as I read:

    I like this opening much better, but the word propeller-ed is a bit distracting. Wait to see what others say, but I'd simplify it. Maybe swung? And then in the first paragraph, I feel like you should mention some action your MC is doing in response to Ed leaning over the plate/flexing his muscles. This way, I - as the reader - know Ed is not the story; Jimbo is. The use of 'we' next might be more telling if you indicated who 'we' is - My team would suffice. Otherwise, 'we' implies including Ed.

    Try showing that Jimbo was pitching and that he was two strikes up on Ed instead of telling the reader that information. Let them experience his stress and excitement. Maybe by squeezing the baseball a little to hard on the pitcher's mound or reciting 'one more strike' in his head. Just examples. Try feeling out the rest of the piece for telling and try to rewrite it as action instead.

    For the most part, once the game continues most of the writing is steeped in action, which is great. A method you could use to bring that action to life even more is by utilizing the five senses - noses itched from the dust stirred up by cleats, sweat in the air, squinting eyes from bright sunlight, whatever...

    Lastly - the ending...#sniffle. There is much more emotion in this piece now because of that. Bravo! I hope this helps. Looking forward to next week!

    1. Thanks for reading and for your comments S. A. - Richard

  2. Hello Richard!

    So my first impression is this: The narrator has a beef with Ed Reese. He shows it by his annoyance with Ed’s hot dog act. If this isn’t something that carries the first five pages into the next so many, consider taking it out. It’s not that I don’t like it all starting in action, but I do get hung up on “hot dog act.”

    However you follow it up with some very clear stakes: if Ed hits one out of the park, he’ll win the game and you follow that with some very clear setting clues and the who’s and what’s. This is a championship game. The narrator is pitching. He’s also lost his father at some point, the person who would give him a feeling of security, were he there. Got it.

    Yet Tony sees the main character as “Jimbo.” Remember: this is our first impression of our OTHERS see him. It also shows Jim and Tony’s relationship. Just go sparingly with nicknames. Dropping one here and there is okay but any more can be distraction.

    Also: watch your “Ands.”

    Also: watch referring to a character with different names. In the second paragraph, you called Ed “Ed” and in the seventh, you called him “Reese.” Just something to consider.

    “You would’ve smoke anything close.” If Ed/ Ed’s Dad/ Jim is a source of conflict for Jim, add more emphasis here. If the fact that Ed’s dad’s unwelcome opinion is a thorn in Jim’s side and has been throughout the entire season, show it.

    “I had handled Ed all year.” How? Is this game any different for Jim and Ed than other games?

    You’ve brought in his mother, thank you. However, watch over using the word “lucky.” We get it, she has good luck charms. Young adult readers can pick up on when too much detail is put in for their benefit. Be careful not to under estimate your readers.

    “Punch and Judy.” Does this mean he’s a wild card? Will he hit at anything? What do you want to show here, and how can you show it?

    “What are we crazy thinking about?” We? Are they both crazy thinking? Or is Jim distracted and distressed and his mind is racing?

    “my best friend ever.” Read this whole line out loud. How else can you show their friendship?

    “behind in the count for no good reason.” I need some clarification on this. I am not a baseball fan, however, this terminology made me take a step back to think over. Maybe devise a new way to show that he is at a disadvantage?

    “You don’t get points…” watch addressing the reader. We are the audience, not characters in the story. By using “you”, you, the author, single out the reader.

    …. “the American legion field scoreboard lights shined bright in their shade.” Wonderful detail!

    “Everyone could see…” etc. Watch over using “everyone.” Does ‘everyone else” matter when the scene is mainly focused on Billy and Jim?

    “brainless picking pitches.” Is there a better way to say this? Because I didn’t think Jim was brainless when he debated his pitches.

    The last few lines are very good, but consider this: how do these pages lead into the next pages? I see now that this is the anniversary of Jim’s father’s funeral. Was the funeral more awful than the day his father died?

    I have two concerns with this, that I will mention. The first is your intended audience. Young Adult is generally geared towards 14-17 year olds. You have thirteen year old characters. What sort of issues/ conflict will arise in the novel, and how will 14-17 year olds perceive these issues as opposed to how middle grade readers might?

    The second concern is how these first 5 pages end. For me, now, it reads like a short story. Maybe end of a note of conflict? Things get worse. How does that start?

    Well done with your revision!

    1. Thanks for reading again and commenting again Melissa. - Richard

  3. I think this definitely has more tension than the previous version! I do still think the final line is showing some kind of foresight he can't have.

    You seem to have introduced a lot of telling in this version (or maybe I didn't see it last time). We are inside his head so it doesn't make sense for him to tell himself who he plays for. Also, if he calls Ed "Reese" then he should always call himself that. It doesn't make sense to give his full name inside his own head. Same thing with Mom (my mom) and Dad (my dad). These people are only what he calls them to himself which is Mom and Dad.

    Good luck!

    1. Thanks Holly - I appreciate you reading and commenting.


  4. Hi Richard – I think this reads well and your story-telling is very clear. Good sentence structure/ sense of audience. I could learn a lesson or two here… That said, my main concern is that this reads like MG to me or perhaps young teen? How old is Jim meant to be?

    The start is also a little confusing – I know it’s hard when advice goes back and forth – but the focus in your opening is on Ed – when this is Jim’s story and it’s not clear whether Ed’s movement and ‘same old hotdog’ act are being narrated by Jim – or an omnipotent narrator. I think you could easily clarify this with a good edit.

    One of my favourite parts is the section with Ed’s dad: ‘ “That’s’ ok Ed, another bad call.” Ed’s dad always pulled one of those old-man lawn chairs up close to the screen near home plate and slurped boiled peanuts the whole game. “You would’ve smoked anything close.”'
    I love it! The detail is pitch perfect – (I think I just punned there…)

    The inclusion of Ed’s dad also emphasises the absence of Jim’s – again I think you’ve nailed the description in this part: ‘“Go with your best pitch.” That’s what my dad had always said. It’s what my dad would say now, if he were here.’

    Where is he…?

    Oh no. Then I get my question answered and THAT ending – his dad’s dead… I hoped he’d just lost contact/ was in prison etc. Not dead! Although, it’s upsetting – it’s an important theme to be explored in kids’ books. I found the ending effective and have no problem with the line: ‘Then it got worse.’ I rather like authority/ foresight (hindsight) from the narrator – I’m reading ‘Wolf Hollow’ at the moment and the narrator does similar to great effect.

    It’s a great piece – I’m looking forward to next week’s version – although not the end of the course.

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting Ro. I appreciate it very much.

  5. Very good job with this revision, Richard. You answered most of my questions about whether or not this was a summer league or a school team. But rather than "tell" us the information like Holly pointed out, maybe show us in describing the setting, such as "The breeze on this hot summer day did little to cool me off as I stood on the pitcher's mound contemplating my next pitch." That's an awful example, but you get the idea. You can show that it's summer and that he's a pitcher all in the same sentence, maybe even adding in something about his Mets cap so we know what team he plays for. Then the reader can surmise that info without the character telling us. Also, instead of "We were in the bottom of the seventh of a seven-inning game" (too many sevens), maybe have him glance at the scoreboard and then say to himself something to the effect that all he has to do is get the last batter out and they win the championship. Or maybe Tony can say something to that effect. Keep Jim's inner thoughts consistent with what he would be thinking/feeling at this point in the game.

    I loved more description of Ed's father, especially slurping on boiled peanuts. We've all seen parents like those, except in Arizona it's sunflower seeds everywhere! I also like the added info about Tony and Jim's relationship, as well as more about Mom. Also, when he and Tony are on the mound, have Jim tell him that he wants to cross Billy over with a curve ball instead of having him think it. Tony's not a mind reader.

    My favorite phrase: ". . . his coolness became a trickle of doubt rolling down to my fingers causing me to grip the ball too tight." You also made the right field fence easier to picture how what should be a pop-up fly ball turned into a home run.

    Loved the ending scene with the coach. Maybe you meant for it to be intentional, but you say "if Dad were here" four times in one paragraph. I found it a little redundant and think you can probably say the same thing in different ways and it would have more impact. The added detail that they buried his dad one year ago is excellent. I like the tension you end with, that the second worst day of his life is about to get even worse.

    1. Thanks Kathie, I really appreciate your reading and commenting. We gotta get you some boiled peanuts. :)

  6. " A base runner stood on first carrying the tying run and Ed was hunting glory."
    This line! This line carries the story forward for me. The tension between Ed's hunting glory, and the implied disaster for the narrator if Ed's glory comes true, is so well stated. In this line you strike the proper balance regarding what's at stake - and in addition, you do it with the correctly nuanced young man's voice.

    This is a sports story and also a story about loss and all of that comes through in this narrative. I think it's very tight - not a word wasted. It's action oriented, as it should be.

    "I stepped off the rubber" - as a former baseball person, I love this moment because it shows who Jimbo is. It's a simple baseball moment that any baseball fan reading will relate to. The coach sends the pitch, the pitcher steps off the rubber. Tension.

    I like mom being in the story with her sunglasses. All of us who grew up in sports have probably been blessed/cursed with a mom-fan! That double clap is so vivid I thought of my own mom. Nice touch.

    "What are we crazy thinking about?" This line didn't work for me. I get that it's supposed to show a nuance of Tony's vocal character but it just hit a flat note for me.

    I also think that "Dad" is mentioned too many times in the final scene but I realize that the repetition is important to make us feel what he's lost. I wonder, reading this story again, whether the first mention of dad earlier in the story might carry a bit more "pang" to it? Some emotional reaction he needs to shake off? Then perhaps the tension of the pitching duel might be a bit more poignant.

    I continue to love the final dialogue between the coach and Jimbo. There's an essence of "surrogate father" there that's appealing to me. When one has lost a parent, those surrogates are so important.

  7. Hi Richard,

    Mackenzi Lee here, commenting under my real name! Don't tell anyone my secret identity.

    This story has great tension to it. It's a very taut opening with a lot of stakes, and I felt very invested immediately. Your clearly know baseball, and the passion for it shows both in your prose and through the narration. You also manage to slip in a lot of character moments into this very tense baseball game, which is admirable. You have a lot of small, telling details (like the mom's lucky cap) that really brought it to life for me.

    However, this read a little middle grade to me. I think it might be due in part to the fact that there's a lot of telling in this draft. I felt disconnected from the emotional reality of Jim's narrative, and didn't feel super in his head. Some of the observations--especially the first line, and things like "my best friend ever"--read very young to me. Make sure we're rooted in the age range right away through voice and observations.

    I think the dad foreshadowing was a tad excessive, and the last few lines about burying his father read a little over dramatic and trite to me. They didn't feel emotionally real so after so much build up about his dad, they lacked punch. Make sure these emotional moments are there because they're emotionally real for the narrator, not because they add drama to a narrative.

    Good luck!


    1. Thanks Mackenzie. I appreciate you reading and commenting.