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!
Eleven-year-old Hannah has a penchant for spelling and story structure, and would do just about anything to get her parents to stop fighting. When she finds threatening notes directed at her on her classroom floor, she is glad to finally have her parents’ attention, but her overly introspective mind leaves her wondering at what cost.
The notes leave Hannah isolated from her best friend and forced into sessions with the perceptive school counselor. As she continues to navigate her memories and the complexity of growing up, she finds escape from her thoughts by making objects talk to her: stuffed animals, backpacks, lucky pennies—and the objects have a story to tell too. But none of these newfound friends can help her when the school’s investigation into the notes finds Hannah as the number one suspect.
The danger becomes real when a gun is brought into school, and Hannah is left alone during the lock down. She is faced with the truth of what actions can cause and the answer to the most important question: who wrote the notes?
WE ALL WROTE THE NOTES is a contemporary MG novel with elements of magical realism and metafiction, and a literary voice.
I measure how happy a day is with sounds. Happy days sound like a TV on low volume or bird calls through a screen door. Sad days sound like dishes crashing around in the sink. Sad days sound like too-loud voices. Once a day is stained sad, it’s hard to make it happy again.
I sit with Olivia and Ryan at our blue table. Cafeteria sounds aren’t happy or sad, just clamorous.
“Chew with your mouth closed, Ryan.” Olivia says
“Are you my mother?” he asks through a mouthful of sloppy joe.
“That’s a book, not a question.” She sucks on her organic juice box.
The three of us jump when the doors of the cafeteria slam shut.
“Have a happy day, Brookview Elementary.” The sound of the loudspeaker falls over the cafeteria like the start of nighttime.
The lunch monitors run around the tables, herding us into groups. I sink to the ground with my back against the cafeteria wall and watch the lights go dark. The lunch ladies seal themselves up in the kitchen. Ryan breathes shaky breaths next to me, so I reach out and hold his hand. It feels funny but safe.
“What’s happening?” he asks.
“It might be a lock down drill.” I swallow down being scared to sound strong instead.
“They always tell us when we’re having one.”
“Are we going to die?” Olivia hides her face behind my arm.
“I don’t know.”
Footsteps echo in the hallway and the cafeteria doors rattle. I breathe in deep. The smell of sloppy joe and bleach makes my stomach twist into a knot.
This doesn’t feel like a drill. I decide that drills are useless. Everything is different when the enemies aren’t imaginary. My heart was not properly prepared to beat so wildly.
I wait for the eleven years of my life to flash by, but instead I am thinking about Are You My Mother. A baby bird is sent tumbling from its nest and into a desperate search for someone to love him. I wonder why mama bird is who the baby bird belonged to, just because she was the same species. Maybe the dog or the bulldozer would have loved him just as much.
Undecipherable voices leak through the wall. I close my eyes and wait for whatever is out in the hallways to find us.
“All clear,” the loudspeaker says.
Like a miracle, the lights are turned back on. Relief rushes all the way into my toes.
“Stay seated, everyone,” Bubby, the head lunch monitor, shouts to the cafeteria.
Olivia peaks out from behind my arm.
“I knew it.” Ryan lets go of my hand like he was never scared at all.
Bubby whistles through his fingers to get our attention.
“This was a lock down drill. You need to know how to respond to an unexpected threat in the school. If you are alone and hear that announcement, ‘have a happy day, Brookview Elementary,’ get to the closest place to hide out of sight.” We are waved back to our seats.
The lock down code words are added to my brain dictionary. I would like to tell the principal that “have a happy day” is not an appropriate code for a lock down, because lock downs are full of sad day sounds.
Olivia, Ryan, and I don’t mention the drill again during lunch. We turn ourselves from puddles of fear back into sixth-graders, into the oldest students at Brookview Elementary. Liquid to solid. Phase transition.
Ryan fills his mouth with sloppy joe.
“Where were we?” he mumbles through the goop.
I laugh and pretend my head isn’t spinning. I move my sandwich around in its plastic wrap, appetite lost. It’s easier not to talk about things.
I like my walks home from school, because I learn how months feel. October air smells like chimney smoke and feels like sinking into cool water, but the good kind of cool water that makes you feel awake. It’s my favorite type of air.
My house is so close to the school that I can practically see it from my front porch, so the walk doesn’t take too long. I see Dad’s truck is in the driveway and my insides turn to quicksand. He is not usually home until dark.
The truck makes me think about third grade. I’ve learned a lot since then. I know not to say crazy things that will get me sent back to Ms. Bishop. She told them what I said about the fighting and it made Dad mad, but I hardly said anything at all. Not really. After that, Dad promised that he would never leave but that wasn’t exactly the problem.
I don’t want him to leave. But I’m afraid of what happens when he stays.
I open the front door and see Dad on the couch. His hands are covered in white paint and balled up in his lap. The TV is on loud. A knife slaps the cutting board too hard in the kitchen. Sad day sounds.
“Hi, Dad.” I stay close to the door, where I can escape to the front yard and suck down October air if the yelling starts.
“How was your day?” He doesn’t look away from the TV.
“Good. Why are you home?”
My question carves lines into Dad’s forehead. I try to reverse time and take the words back. Sometimes I think I have dormant magic inside me. One day my powers will wake up and make everything better.
“When you build houses for people, they can change their minds. And you lose hundreds of dollars and weeks of your time.”
I know those words. They turn Dad into a monster. I must fight back with words that will make him soft again.
“We had a lock down today,” I say. The lines in his face fill back up. His eyes focus on me like spotlights on a stage. Mom comes into the room with a towel in her hands.
“What did you say, Hannah? You had a lock down?”
“It was a drill, but we didn’t know at first. I was scared.”
Dad turns the TV down and makes room for me on the couch.
“Don’t be scared, hon. No threat is going to hurt my girl.” He kisses the top of my head.
Threat. The same word Bubby used in the cafeteria. I have the basic definition in my brain dictionary. I add more.
Threats are when the hurt is right in front of you but doesn’t touch you. Threats make you forget about everything except being whole and safe and happy again.
I wish Dad would always be this way. I’d do anything to make the sad sounds go quiet forever.
The next day, my class is copying vocabulary. I write the words in my notebook like a researcher on the verge of discovering treasure. Analysis: detailed examination of the elements or structure of something. Falsification: to present an untruth. Intention: an aim or plan.
The tip of my pencil breaks. I walk to the back of the room and shove my pencil into the sharpener. The grinding sound is a happy one. It means a new point, a shiny do-over.
I look down. A small piece of paper is crunched into a ball on the floor. I pick it up and stretch it out. Three words are written on the torn-off corner of a sheet of notebook paper: