Monday, October 10, 2016

1st 5 Pages October Workshop - DLE Rev 1

Name: DLE
Genre: Middle Grade Contemporary with Magical Realism
Title: Harvey the Bedazzler

It’s weird to go to a stranger’s funeral, especially when it’s your grandfather’s. But there we were, headed to Amelia Island to “pay our respects” to a man I’d only seen once when I was a baby and again when I was five. Pay our respects…what a strange thing for Dad to say, seeing as how he didn’t seem to respect Grandpa Harvey all that much.

At least Mom let me sit up front with Dad so my younger brother and I were separated for the almost six-hour drive from Atlanta to Amelia. Will had a way of getting on my last nerve, and according to my parents, I had a way of making him pitch an annoying fit.

I turned around to Mom. “I can’t believe you’re making me go. I didn’t even know him.” And I didn’t know Grandpa Harvey, but I’d also planned my first week of summer already. It was opening week for the neighborhood pool and my only chance to win back my former best friend, Jenna.

Mom ignored me.

So I reminded her about the mile-long seventh grade gifted summer reading list and how she’d forgotten to get the books from the library. “It will take an average of 19.5 pages each day, including weekends, to finish before school starts again,” I said. “I should be at the library right now checking the books out. You guys can still go.”

“Forget it, Sydney,” Mom said.

“Yeah, forget it, Sydney,” Will echoed.

Mom sighed. “We’re not leaving an eleven-year-old girl home alone while the rest of us go to Florida.”

“But I’ll be twelve in thirty-seven days!”

Mom gave me a disappointed look like I should be ashamed for trying to get out of going to my grandfather’s funeral.

She was right. I was a horrible person.

I shifted in my seat, trying to see Dad’s expression. He hadn’t said much since he’d gotten the call from Uncle Bennett saying Grandpa Harvey had died in his sleep of a brain aneurysm. Mom told me that’s when one of the arteries in the brain ruptures and causes a stroke. She said some people can survive a brain aneurysm and a stroke if they get help right away, but Grandpa Harvey had been alone.

I leaned against the headrest and stared out the window while Dad thumped the steering wheel to the beat of the song playing on the radio.  In the side mirror I could see Will with his head on mom’s lap. She stroked his hair like a mama baboon. Her nine-year-old, two-ton baby.

“Did you pack your bathing suit?” Dad asked.

“What?” I shook my foot. It had fallen asleep and felt as heavy as a backpack full of rocks.

“Your swimsuit,” he said. “You can’t be this close to the Atlantic Ocean and not get in.” 

But this wasn’t a vacation. “I didn’t bring it,” I said. I waited for him to make a suggestion. No problem, we’ll pick something up at Walmart. Or You can swim in your shorts. He was always loaded with solutions. He taught college calculus and otheryou’d better be really smart math classes. Solving things was his job.

But he looked straight ahead at the road.

“There’s always skinny dipping,” I said, trying to be funny.

“You could do that,” he said, straight-faced like he hadn’t really heard me.

What’s he thinking? I wondered. He must be sad. I should be sad. But it’d been so long since I’d seen Grandpa Harvey. Six years to be exact.

Dad propped his elbow on the door and his pointer finger rested on his lips. The conversation vault was locked so I fluffed my pillow and leaned against it as the mile markers went by.

“He loved the ocean.”

“What?” I sat up. “Who?”

“Your grandfather,” he said softly. “The ocean, traveling, and telling stories,” he added. “Only not in that order. Storytelling was definitely an obsession.”

“Stories?” I leaned in closer. This was good—Dad was going to tell me about Grandpa Harvey. I’d get to know him just in time to miss him, but still, it was something.

“We ate it up, too,” Dad said, still staring at the road. “Bennett and I would wait for him to come home from being out of town, working who knows where. Mom would fix him something to eat and we’d all sit at the table, ready to hear about the bear he’d wrestled, or the bank robbery he’d foiled, or how he’d saved a bunch of people from a burning building.”

Why didn’t I know this? Grandpa Harvey was a hero. This was exactly what I needed—stories to impress Jenna and the other middle table people in the cafeteria once school started again. It’d be good-bye to hiding behind a book and hello to saying something that was actually interesting.

“People would even stop him on the street,” Dad said. “‘What do you have for us today, Harvey?’ they’d ask, wanting to hear one of his tales.” Dad paused. He had a faraway look like he was back in time. “It was all so—” His forehead wrinkled.

“Awesome?” I asked. “Exciting?”

Dad turned to me. “I was going to say embarrassing.”


“He’d made it all up,” Dad said. “Lies. Stories to make himself seem big—important.”

My heart ached for Dad. And maybe a little for me. But it’s not like I’d ever be brave enough to tell a story at lunch in the seventh grade. Or ever.
“You and Will never have to worry about that, okay?” Dad said.


“The whole truth and nothing but the truth,” he said, raising his right hand off the steering wheel. “With me, what you see is what you get.” He pushed the scan button until he found a sports talk station.

I nodded. The problem was, what I saw, I didn’t get. Not anymore. He’d been different the past few months; I just couldn’t put my finger on what it was.

We passed a highway sign telling us there were only 30 more miles to Amelia and the only thing standing in our way was a huge four-lane bridge. It stretched for miles over the Intracoastal Waterway.           

Mom and Will were sacked out in the back, their mouths wide open. They looked like twins, thirty years apart.

People said I resembled my dad. I didn’t see it, especially now that he’d grown THE BEARD. It scratched my face when I hugged him and Mom hated it. Maybe she was right. Maybe he’d grown it like a fence, to keep others out. That’s what she told my aunt anyway, in a conversation I wasn’t invited to.

“Stay right on A1A,” the GPS lady said once we reached solid ground again. Dad turned up his phone. It was probably so he wouldn’t miss any important details. Grandpa Harvey had retired on the island and Dad hadn’t been there any more often than I had. My dad was super smart, but sometimes he accidentally took the long way to places.

“In five miles, turn left at Sand Dollar Avenue,” the lady navigator said, waking Mom and my brother.

“Can we take a dolphin cruise?” Will asked as we passed a billboard advertising them.

Okay, if he was getting a dolphin cruise, I was going to ask for a side trip to Disney World. It was only 175 miles from here. I’d looked it up before we left home.


  1. Hi DLE,

    Your voice in the work is very strong, and Sydney's personality is established so well.

    Great work painting a vivid picture of Grandpa Harvey. Even though Sydney didn't really know him, the reader gets such a clear picture of him through dialogue and things Mom has told Syndney previously.

    "Solving things was his job." is a fantastic way to show Dad's personality. Awesome work.

    Not sure if I mentioned this before, but you do such a fantastic job of making a car ride super intriguing. I find it challenging to make a car ride scene flow so smoothly and be so interesting. These pages just suck me right into Sydney's personality and world.

    Definitely want to read more!!

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  3. Hi again, DLE!

    I didn't see many changes here, and that's fine -- the opening rocked in the first version we saw. I like the switch of the Mom-Sydney conversation to present story time, with a Mom-echo from Mom's-boy Will. This keeps us firmly in the ongoing scene and makes Mom and Will players (however minor here) rather than sleepy props.

    The new section needs a bit of polishing to adjust for the move from past report to present dialogue. Since the family has almost finished its drive to Amelia Island as we open, Sydney's complaint about coming along is now just that, complaint, and probably one Mom has heard uselessly repeated for several hours. I doubt Sydney really thinks they're going to turn around at this point, so she wouldn't say, "I should be at the library right now checking books out. You guys can still go." Rather, "I should have been at the library right now checking books out. You guys could still have gone."

    Similarly, from Mom, not "We're not leaving an eleven-year-old girl home alone while the rest of us go to Florida," but "We weren't leaving an eleven-year-old girl home alone while the rest of us went to Florida."

    Similarly, not "Mom gave me a disappointed look like I should be ashamed for trying to get out..." but "Mom gave me a disappointed look like I should be ashamed for having tried to get out..."

    I'm not too fond of "and other you'd better be really smart math classes." Seems to push Sydney's characteristic wittiness a tad too close to cutesiness. "He taught college calculus. Solving things was his job," would be plenty for me.

    Since Sydney is a first-person narrator -- all we sense and know must come through her, including her thoughts -- I think "What's he thinking? I wondered" can simply be "What was Dad thinking?" That this is Sydney's thought is a given per the POV. That she's wondering is implied by the question mark.

    "The conversation vault was locked..." Connection of this to the finger on the lips might be better served by something like "It looked like he was locking in further conversation..."

    "You and Will never have to worry about that..." What is the precedent of "that" is a little vague. Maybe something like, "You and Will never have to worry about me embarrassing you like that..."

    "That's what she told my aunt anyway, in a conversation I wasn't invited to." To clarify story past occurrence, better, "That's what she'd told my aunt anyway, in a conversation I hadn't been invited to."

    "They looked like twins, thirty years apart." Maybe "They looked like twins born thirty years apart"? For clarity of the simile?

    Small stuff, because that's the point you've reached! Another two revisions, and we'll have nothing to discuss but differences of opinion on punctuation, if that!


  4. Hi!

    The rivalry between the two siblings is better established with Will echoing what the mom says. I like it!

    Like Anne mentioned, I like how you chose to situate the story more in the present. I prefer this much better. Now we can see more of the present car ride, which makes the scene’s focus tighter!

    I also agree with Anne’s lack of fondness for the ‘you’d better be really smart math classes’ line. It doesn’t fit in with the other italicized sentences in the paragraph, and makes for a so-so line.

    I feel like the line about Disney World goes against your character’s motivations as they are currently presented. Right now you mention Sydney looked up the distance to Disney World before leaving at the end of the scene, but during the car ride she’s feeling guilty about trying to get out of it at all… which seems to be in conflict with her current outlook about the funeral, even if it is in retaliation to her brother’s comment.

    Also, what about her plans to make up with Jenna? Right now it doesn’t seem like her friend is important. Does she try a Jenna excuse on her parents? Are Sydney’s friends/the promise of popularity an important motivation for Sydney throughout the story? If so, I feel you could put a bit more emphasis on the friendship, and less on the library list (for word count). Regardless of Jenna’s importance in the story, I feel like I need some closure with that thought in the scene.

    Overall this revised scene definitely works better! Good job :)

  5. Hi, DLE,

    I like Will’s added line. It really shows the Mom/littler brother connection and sets it apart even more now from Sydney and her father.

    You do a great job contrasting Harvey and Sydney’s dad. It hints at a potential reason why Sydney didn’t know her grandfather that well.

    The story flows well. You do a great job at transition from narrative to dialogue.

    I’m interested to see how Jenna plays out in the rest of the story. I like the fact you casually mention her twice. I love ideas and characters being planted for later use. It gives me more reason to want to keep reading and find out the answers.

    Solid work overall. Looking forward to your pitch!

  6. Hi DLE,

    Nice job with the revisions! I find the narrative is much stronger now that you have less exposition up front.

    Early commenters have already mentioned this, but you've made the car ride really interesting. Usually, I'd feel like I'd want to be at the destination, not just getting there. But this definitely works.

    A couple of things you may want to tweak. I find the chunk of prose below a little clunky, particularly the repetition of "I didn't know him." Also, I'd love to see more of Sydney's personality coming out there. Something like her thinking "Besides, how was I supposed to win back my former best friend Jenna when I was 1,356 miles away at a funeral?" (Or something more "voicey" there.):
    I turned around to Mom. “I can’t believe you’re making me go. I didn’t
    even know him.” And I didn’t know Grandpa Harvey, but I’d also planned
    my first week of summer already. It was opening week for the
    neighborhood pool and my only chance to win back my former best
    friend, Jenna.

    Also, as already mentioned by a commenter, there are some tense issues going on in some of your revised stuff. You'll want to fix that.

    Overall, though, I really like this a lot! Even more than I did the first round. So well done! For the next round, just really focus on polishing things up (and the issues I mentioned above). Try reading it aloud if you think it'll help hear the cadences.

    I'm excited to see the pitch and your next revisions!

    All best,
    Rob, 1st 5 Pages mentor