Sunday, February 12, 2017

1st 5 Pages February Workshop - Soares Rev 1

Name: Maggie Soares
Genre: #OwnVoices Contemporary Young Adult
Title: What You Have of Me

This is how you handle a paparazzi scrum.

Head up, shoulders back, sunglasses on (no anti-glare: anything you can do to ruin a photo is good). Hands relaxed: clenched fists means the internet’ll be speculating about what has you so angry within the hour. You look straight ahead and you never, ever stop walking.

This is how I screw that up.

I’m coming out of my last exam when my dad’s voice bounces off the empty lockers. Carly Smithers, a girl I only ever talked to in this class and probably won’t talk to again, is wearing shitty headphones with the volume turned up too high. One song changes to another, and, yup, that’s Apollo Knight’s third studio album. Weird choice. Everyone always says that’s his worst one.

(I try not to take it too personally, since it was born the same year I was)

She takes out the headphones and lets out that awkward chuckle people do when I catch them listening to my dad’s music.

“That was impossible, right?”

I hum in vague agreement, even though the exam was ridiculously easy. I don’t know if she’s the type of person to run and tell some reporter I walk around thinking I’m smarter than everyone. She’d be a perfect social media star, blonde hair and dancer’s body. I’m miniature beside her, the curls piled on top of my head the only thing giving me a boost.

I’m saved from further small-talk by the buzz of my phone. When the theme song to Jaws starts playing, though, I cringe.

My dad’s PA doesn’t bother with hellos.

 “Echo,” Mary says in a clipped tone that means something’s really hit the fan. “I sent a car. Get down here as inconspicuously as possible.”

She hangs up before I can respond, and I clench and unclench my toes in my dirty uniform shoes so I don’t lose it with Carly still around.

“I have to go,” I tell her, but she’s distracted by something on her phone. She looks up at me, eyes wide, and nods.

If Carly already knows what’s going on, Mary showed real discipline by not pulling me out of my exam.

Malcom’s outside the school, but inside my dad’s least-conspicuous car, our standing arrangement.

“How’d it go?” He asks once I’m inside.

“Do you know what this is?” I ignore his question. He knows that class was my easiest A.

Malcom just shrugs, because nothing we do surprises him at this point. His hair’s greying at the sides, or maybe it’s always been like that.

“Thought Mary was going to explode. Y’know that vein on her forehead?”

If Mary’s forehead vein has made an appearance, we’re in the danger zone.

My phone is suspiciously quiet, I and resist the urge to throw it when I realize I have no service. Mary only cuts off my data when something apocalyptic happens. It’s easier to be annoyed than scared, which is how my gut’s starting to feel, so I allow myself ten seconds to glare out the window at the palm trees that line the road. Palm trees don’t have to put up with this shit. I shove my phone back into my bag and try to shove the fear down with it.

It’s probably not drugs, since Apollo Knight’s been famously clean for the past fifteen years (a voice in my head reminds me the longer he’s been clean, the bigger the scandal a relapse would be). As far as I know, he hasn’t been dating, so it’s not some gold-digger coming after us. If it had something to do with my mom, she would have called me, so I rule her out, too. There’s always the chance that it’s about me, and that presses on my windpipe until I have to force myself to stop thinking about it. My foot taps anxiously and dirt and glitter and other arts school shrapnel fall onto the otherwise-spotless tan car mats.

“What’s the plan?”

“Security waiting at the gate.”

“Seriously?” I lean forward until my head almost touches the back of Malcom’s neck. His shoulder twitches.

If I have to walk up my dad’s driveway, that means three things. One, paparazzi are camped outside his house. Two, he wants people to see me there, so, three, whatever he did can be improved if we pretend we’re a happy family.

I dig through my backpack for my emergency pair of jeans, letting out a little noise of accomplishment when I find them buried under a stack of posters Nora asked me to put up ages ago. The thought of Nora sends my hands shaking along with my foot, and I internally mutter a few choice words at Mary for not letting me text her.

“Mary wanted you to stay in your uniform,” Malcom eyes me in the rearview.

“Mary’s gonna have to live with the top,” I wiggle into the jeans under my skirt. “Every time I wear a uniform skirt in public I end up on niche porn blogs.”

He doesn’t have anything to say to that. My heart’s in my throat and I breathe cautiously around it, sure if I’m not careful I’ll bite down and destroy myself. My tapping foot’s crept up my body, a low-level tremor going through me by the time we make it to my dad’s house.

I’ve never seen it like this.

My dad’s A-list status rides on obnoxious guys my age who think he’s the Last Real Rock Star and the handful of number ones his label’s produced, but everyone knows Apollo Knight is not exactly at his peak. He might get papped grocery shopping sometimes, but we all know in a few years he’ll be surviving or dancing or racing with The Stars.

With the crowd outside his house, you’d think it was twenty years ago.

There’s at least fifty of them, yelling and waving cameras and trying to swarm the car. My dad’s head of security pushes through the crowd. Dylan offers his arm, and I allow myself to be pulled up.

The noise is always the first thing I notice. It hits me sharply, a stinging wall of sound that I have to focus to keep an impartial face against. I squeeze my eyes shut behind my sunglasses, swallow my heart, and step into it.

My name’s being called from thirty different directions, but I don’t turn to any of them. Don’t get distracted. If they smell blood, they’ll be on you before you can even realize your mistake. Dylan sticks by my side, but I don’t smile up at him like I want to. Someone would write an article claiming we’re in some kind of secret taboo romance, and by the look of things, we can’t afford another scandal right now.

I try to pull my face into a placid smile. Anything too happy and it’ll look like I’m not taking this seriously. Anything too angry and I’ll look like a bitch.

“Hi Echo,” Greg Peters’ smarmy voice says. He’s recording, and if I don’t say anything I’ll be public enemy number one on his livestream tonight.

“Hi,” I try to keep my voice from going completely flat.

“What do you think about all of this?” Greg’s chasing after me now that I’ve opened my mouth. I press my lips together, tight enough that Greg seems to notice. He gets this look on his face like he’s about to go in for the kill.

“Are there any others?”

I stop walking.


  1. (I just wanted to mention that the word at the end of the sentence in the fifth paragraph from the bottom is supposed to be "tonight"! I don't know if it's just me, but it's showing up as a blank space on my end)

  2. Hey Maggie,

    This revision is so much tighter than the first round! Great job on using more active verbs. I also like that you were able to work in her name and a little description so we have something to visualize.

    I just realized, you said "paparazzi scrum." Should that be "scum?"

    This is just a thought: Someone asked last time how she screws up her 'keeping it cool' thing, because you talk about it, then we see her getting the call and pulled into the car, and it feels like there's a disconnect from that first paragraph to the rest of the pages. But after reading the next bit, I think what's going to happen is she "screws it up" because she stops to talk to the reporter right? Would it maybe work better if you started the story right when she comes out of the class, and put that awesome first paragraph after this line: 'I squeeze my eyes shut behind my sunglasses, swallow my heart, and step into it.' That way we know exactly what she's thinking as she gets out into the mess, and it might flow a little better. Does that make sense? Of course, this is just one idea, because honestly, the pages are quite good and I don't have much else to suggest.

    So excited to read your pitch and any further changes next week! Thanks for letting me read your work:)


  3. Hi Maggie,

    I love this story so much! You pull me in with the mystery: what's going on? We know from celebrity watching that it could be literally anything. The fact that the reporters know, the driver knows, her classmate knows, but she doesn't yet, really heightens the tension. I know my imagination is going wild. I really, really want to know what's happening. This is good.

    I like Jamie's suggestion about keeping it linear and moving the opener to where it fits. The next line pulls me in, too, so it really can work, if you agree.

    You really use the scene well, keeping us in her head and giving snippets of action, dialogue, narration, reaction, and backstory.

    The only thing I don't know, and I don't know if it's even necessary in these pages, (as long as it's clear coming up soon) is her motivation, meaning: what does she want? How does Echo feel about her situation? What is her heart's desire, which should propel the plot. Since we don't know her situation yet, I think it's fine not to know this yet. Just putting that out there.

    Thanks for sharing this story. Looking forward to more!

  4. Maggie!

    What can I say. Fabulous job on the revision. You've really fleshed out Echo's character, and I feel like I know her well. Great job!

    There really isn't much to say, other than what was said above. I'm super anxious to see how she's about to screw up with the paparazzi, and I'm getting the feeling we're about to drive right into that.

    My only comment, and please know it's completely subjective and could just be my lack of expertise, mirror's Kelly's above. I really want to know why this matters so much to Echo. How will her world come crashing down? Or what, or who, does she stand to lose? It seems like that is on deck, though, so could be a matter of turning the page.

    Really well done! Looking forward to your pitch!

    A L

  5. Nice, tight revision. Well done! Love the name Echo. The following are thoughts for fine-tuning.
    1. I'm still not comfortable with the "This is how I screw it up" line b/c this is in first-person present which means Echo can't predict something she's going to screw up in the future. I know the cadence of the line feels very satisfying but it doesn't serve the story. Maybe a simple tweak (e.g., "I won't screw it up again") will let you keep the meter without confusing the reader, tense/context-wise.
    2. One small detail that pulled me out of the story: the "Jaws" ringtone for dad. I have kids 22, 20 and 16 and that reference would fall flat with them--even though they are aware of the movie. I think Jaws mostly red-flags the writer's 80s childhood to the agent/editor (who may very well have had a 90s childhood)! :)
    3. Structurally, you have many one-sentence PPs (#s 1, 3, 5, 7, 10...). When you picture this in a hardcover novel format, imagine how much significance all that white space gives to the set-off lines. Right now, granting a lot of sentences this dramatic significance doesn't seem like a big deal but, when you're at 300+ pages, this is going to feel very stylized and will lose dramatic punch. Play with grouping some of sentences into larger PPs, both to break up the staccato of all the short PPs and to give more power and significance to the stand-alones you leave. For examples of choosing the right stand-alone one-sentence paragraphs, look at the opening chapters of David Lubar's CHARACTER, DRIVEN; DEVOTED by Jennifer Matthieu; and Ruta Sepetys' BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY.
    All in all though, great work. Very strong story. Looking forward to what's next!

  6. Hi Maggie,

    I easily noticed the effort you put in to making Echo more real for the reader emotionally. I felt more there with her in the car, feeling how she was feeling as she got closer to her dad’s house. It helps add dimension to your already engaging story.

    I also love that you were able to get to that “are there any others” line to really get the reader invested in what the secret is. I know I’m dying to know!

    I noticed this time around that Carly’s first line is a bit ambiguous; I know she’s talking about the exam but it could be misinterpreted as being about the dad’s music, because that’s what is being talked about before the line of dialogue. The mention of Nora also confused me a little, because Echo’s hands shake, which to me feels like anger toward her, but then she wants to text her.

    I might like to get just a little bit more about the relationship between Echo and her dad. The mention of putting on a happy family front is revealing, but maybe you could build a little more on what’s going on between the two of them. Maybe mention how long it’s been since she’s seen her dad, if that is significant?

    Looking forward to reading your pitch!

    All the best,

  7. Hi Maggie,

    So glad to see you've taken the feedback from the last round to heart. It really shows! It's great that you end on a cliffhanger. "Are there any others?" is so ominous and ambiguous. Could be illegitimate kids, could be murder victims. I don't know, but I definitely want to find out. So well done on that.

    Also, I think you're able to get us further into the story because you cut some of the small talk with Carly. That's great, too.

    There are a couple of things I think you should be working on for the next round.

    1) Structurally, these pages are working better because we're spending less time on stuff like The Show that weren't critical for the early pages of your novel. But, in cutting out that material, you've created a few rough edges. For example, Echo says "I’m saved from further small-talk by the buzz of my phone," but they hadn't engaged in small talk now that The Show is no longer the topic of conversation. And this feels a bit jumpy, too:

    “How’d it go?” He asks once I’m inside.
    “Do you know what this is?” I ignore his question. He knows that class was my easiest A."

    I think you may need to adjust some of the material you kept in from the prior round to flow a little more naturally.

    2) I feel a little removed from Echo's emotions in these pages. There are a few places where I want to see her react to events in a way that tells me what's really going on in her head. For example, When Echo realizes Carly is looking at some scandal involving her dad, it seems like she had a really flat reaction: "If Carly already knows what’s going on, Mary showed real discipline by not pulling me out of my exam." But wouldn't that be an "oh, crap!" moment for her? Wouldn't she have a sense of dread? There are a few other instances in which I kind of expected to Echo to react emotionally to what's happening, but she just doesn't. You might want to be on the lookout for those.

    So overall, you've taken a big step forward with this draft. Now it's time to smooth out those rough edges and create a little more emotional investment in your MC and, by extension, your readers.

    I'm looking forward to seeing the next round!!!

    Rob, 1st 5 Pages mentor