Sunday, October 16, 2016

1st 5 Pages October Workshop - DLE Rev 2

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


Eleven-year-old Sydney thinks her only problems are losing her best friend to the most popular girl at school and overhearing her parents say something about a divorce. But when her family travels to Florida to attend the funeral of a grandfather she barely remembers, things really begin to unravel.

For the first time, Sydney hears stories about Grandpa Harvey’s too-incredible-to-be-true adventures. Like the tale about how her grandpa was rescued by a giant turtle when he was in Vietnam. And one where her grandpa entered a pig in a dog show—and won.  And another about how he made repairs on a witch’s house in exchange for directions out of the swamp. But Sydney’s dad, who’s still holding a grudge, thinks they’re all lies and wants to bury the stories with his father. 

Sydney, with the help of her new friend, Nick, has only days to find proof and convince her dad that the stories are true. Along the way she might find the courage to have an adventure of her own and finally get to know her grandfather. And just maybe she can help fix the hole in her dad’s heart and save her family from falling apart.

Chapter One

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.”

She ignored me.

Mom didn’t care that I’d already planned my first week of summer. And it involved spending it at the neighborhood pool trying to win back my former best friend, Jenna, not 400 miles away at a funeral.  

Then I reminded her about the two-page 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’ve been at the library checking the books out. You guys could have still gone.”

Mom sighed. “We weren’t about to leave an eleven-year-old girl home alone while the rest of us went to Florida.”

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

“Drop it, Sydney,” Mom said.

“Yeah, drop it, Sydney,” Will echoed.

Mom gave me a disappointed look like I should be ashamed for complaining about 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 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 was Dad thinking? 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,” Dad said, raising his hand off the steering wheel. “The whole truth and nothing but the truth.” He pushed the scan button until he found a sports talk station. “With me, what you see is what you get.”

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, born 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’d 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, and it’d be the only way to salvage this whole trip.


  1. Hi DLE!


    Duuude! Spot on. Great work on your pitch. It's both solid and intriguing. If I read this on the back of a book at Barnes and Noble, I'd buy it! Great work using examples of Grandpa Harvey's stories and weaving in the goal of proving that they're actually true--really rocks the magical realism. :) Awesome work!


    Solid work! Well done. Looking forward to seeing this on the shelves one day!

    *high fives*

  2. Hi DLE!

    That pitch is riveting- this is something I want to read! I don’t have anything to critique here :D My only issue with it is just a little punctuation that seems off in the line ‘Sydney, with the help of her new friend, Nick, has only days…’. Shouldn’t it be ‘Sydney, with the help of her new friend Nick, has only days…”? It may not be wrong, but it feels like there’s an overly dramatic pause there as is. Maybe it’s just me.

    I love your opening five pages, but there seems to be a discord between pitch Sydney and first five Sydney in terms of emotions. The pitch seems to deliver Sydney as more preoccupied about her problems than she is in the opening scene (in terms of the mention of ‘divorce’ and Jenny). The pitch implies that the mention of divorce happens before we first meet Sydney in the car ride, yet this isn’t weighing on Sydney’s mind in the first 5 pages… If the divorce mention does happen ‘pre story’ that certainly needs to be touched upon! Something like that isn’t easily forgotten, at any age! An easy way to squeeze that in is to mention this divorce when her dad looks sad or worried in the car.

    I like that it sounds like Sydney used the Jenna excuse now!

    That addition at the end about how going to Disney would “be the only way to salvage this whole trip” really answers my previous comments in the draft. I think it rounds the scene off better!

    Love the scene! Great job!

  3. Hi again, DLE!

    As I suspected, I've little to say about revision 2. Tiny quibbles below:

    "...Will with his head on mom's lap" should be "Will with his head on Mom's lap," to parallel capital-D Dads.

    "Dad propped his elbow on the door and his pointer finger rested on his lips." For parallel clause structure: "Dad propped his elbow on the door and rested his pointer finger on his lips."

    That's it. The high polish of this sample was otherwise blinding me until I put on my wrap-around editorial glass with their sapphire-blue typo-detecting lenses.

    The pitch is also excellent. It's just "Sydney-voicey" enough to give the query reader a pretaste for the novel's style of narration, and it packs in all the needed background and stakes without confusing detail. There's even a time-clock on how long Sydney has to prove Grandfather Harvey wasn't a monumental liar. I guess you could make the clock more specific (how many days?), but that's not necessary.

    If possible, I'd like some brief mention of where Nick comes from, how he and Sydney become friends. Again, not vital but Nick does come across as an important enough character to merit it.

    To get more words, I'd delete "who's still holding a grudge" from the second paragraph. It's not needed, and for me it's a little distracting -- a grudge? For what? More than telling stories?

    Oh, and the stories mentioned in that second paragraph are even more intriguing than the ones in the opening! Nice here, though yeah, there're probably not the ones Dad would mention. Not as his first introduction of embarrassing Harvey.

    Excellent work! May the agents and editors be with you!


  4. Hi DLE,

    Good opening pitch line. It lets us know what the stakes are right away. The second line sets up where the conflict of the story will come from. Unravel is such a phenomenal word to finish the first paragraph.

    The second paragraph lists some great examples of her grandfather’s incredible stories, but it may be too much. It may just be me, but I suggest removing one of the three examples. I’d like to see how Sydney reacts to the stories. From the first chapter she seems more willing than her father to believe them, so I suggest weaving her feelings about it in the second paragraph to drive home the contrast between the two of them. The third paragraph mentions that she wants to convince him, so it’d be a nice touch if you show more of her feelings on it.

    I liked the brief mention of Nick. It lets us know that she’ll have help, but doesn’t reveal too much about him. It keeps the focus on her.

    I really love that you mention that Sydney only has days to prove the stories are correct. It brings a sense of urgency to the stakes of the stories, as does the last line of the paragraph. Really interesting pitch!

    The samples pages are even more polished than before. You really do a wonderful job at seamlessly switching from narrative to dialogue. It flows really well. Karen said it best before, you make an ordinary car ride seem amazing. That’s remarkable.

    The first five and the pitch play off each other very nicely. Great work!

  5. Hi DLE! Here are my comments:


    Really solid! Don’t have too much to say, actually. I would perhaps think of a way to combine the last 2 sentences – they are long and I think that pulls away from the punch they could be giving us. But otherwise great job.

    Might I suggest Big Fish as something you use as a comp title? Big Fish meets (some MG book) would be a great pitch for you!


    Your writing in this pages is great and obviously we’re getting a lot of great backstory. My suggestion, though, might be to actually start this story a bit later – at the actual funeral rather than on the way there. A lot of this backstory could be revealed as we watch Sydney observe guests and describe the weird feeling of being at a funeral for her grandfather who is also a stranger.

    I do think you have a bit of a “chatty narrator” issue, where Sydney is telling us things rather than showing them (ex: that her Dad didn’t respect her grandfather or that Mom didn’t care about Sydney’s summer plans). This is very common and usually easy to fix by showing this information through other means, like dialogue and behavior descriptions. For example, you could have Dad be gruff/annoyed about the funeral somehow, or otherwise appearing uncomfortable if someone approaches him to express their condolences. This line: “But he looked straight ahead at the road.” Was great at showing that Dad is preoccupied about this trip and not himself. Rely more on cues like this. Think of this as us seeing the world/story through Sydney’s eyes (her observations and reactions to events) rather than her filling us in on everything. Don't feel like you have to tell us everything about Sydney's family in the first chapter, either. We will learn along the way.

    I think you’re off to a great start with a great story! Some minor tweaks and I think you could make the opening just a bit stronger. Great work, and thanks for the chance to read!

  6. Hi DLE,

    I know I'm a little late to the game on this round, as the results have been announced. But let me just say congratulations on a really engaging pitch and well-polished sample! It was a pleasure to read in every round -- especially once we got to see your pitch to put your first five pages in context.

    Thanks so much for sharing!

    I hope I have the chance to read the whole book in print one day. Fingers crossed!

    All best,
    Rob, 1st 5 Pages mentor

  7. Thanks, all, for the extremely help comments! You've definitely helped me improve my first pages!

    Thanks, Erin, for running the contest!