Sunday, May 7, 2017

1st 5 Pages May Workshop - Kusma

Name: Julie Kusma
Genre: MG Magical Realism/Historical Fiction
Title:   In Katie’s Attic   
Katie would die if she had to wait any longer. “Come on and click already.” Her legs dangled over the edge of her bed. She swung them back and forth faster and faster in hopes of quickening time. “Come on, come on.” As her tic-tocking reached maximum speed, she tempted the bed skirt to strike. The stiff lace bit the back of her calves. “Oh, never mind!” She kicked off the ruffles and landed on the floor with a thud.

“Kathryn,” her father yelled up the stairs.

“Yeah Dad, I’m in my bedroom.”

“Leaving. Be back by five. Stay in, okay kiddo?”

“Dad, I will be all right.” In stillness, she listened for the front door to lock.

Last year, Katie had hated staying home alone while her father worked. Each day seemed exceptionally long without her mother. Katie’s depression, unwilling to lift, dwindled her friends down to none. Her friends viewed her somber company like the woolen sweater she got last Christmas—uncomfortable.  Katie adjusted to living—to not having a mother, but the sadness wouldn’t leave. She didn’t suppose her pain would go away either.   
The loss of her mother wasn’t the only change. This summer, everything was different. Katie stumbled onto a secret and, for the first time since her mom died, Katie looked forward to waking up. Click. There it was. After two or three minutes Katie felt comfortable no one was home—no one was listening. She flipped to her belly and crept to the end of her bed. Cautiously she peered around the frame’s edge.

“My name is Katie. Well, actually Kathryn. Kathryn Louise, but you can call me Katie. I suppose you could call me Kate, but I guess I prefer Katie. So, call me Katie.” She sat up, cautious not to arouse the lace beast and sank against the footboard. “You’ll need to remember my name so you can call for me if we get separated along the way.” After catching her breath, Katie jumped up and placed her hands on her hips. “Oh, you do know you are coming with me, right?” She paused for a moment then matter-of-factly added, “Well, if you’re not sure, just go. I can only take serious treasure trackers with me.”    

Katie thought about the situation. “You’re not frightened, are you? I hope not because nothing really scary ever happens. Well, sometimes, but so what, it’s fun.” Not waiting for a reply, Katie went on, “The first thing I should mention is that we are treasure tracking.” She stepped through her bedroom door and headed down the narrow hall. The tips of her fingers trailed along the flocked wallpaper. “By treasure tracking, I mean digging through piles of junk. Then we will spot the one gem waiting all this time for us to find it. Don’t worry.” She leaped toward the ceiling, “They jump out at you.”  Her eyes grew large. “Some things may whisper to you.” Katie turned back over her shoulder. “Now, don’t start getting weird on me. Can you imagine, a little box or something saying your name?” Katie paused as the image formed. “Anyhow, a talking box calls your name—super freaky, right?”

The smell of the morning’s pancake breakfast lingered in the air and caused her mouth to water. She enjoyed the aroma down the worn hallway path. Her head turned toward the sun as she passed the first set of balcony doors. Squinting out some of the light, she liked the trees waving outside. She passed the second balcony and around the landing of their central staircase. She always wanted to slide down the handrail, but her dad had forbidden her to do so. Her stomach knotted as she drew near her parent’s—her father’s room.  She stood a several steps short swallowing down the knot growing in her throat. Katie still had to force herself past. She hurried toward the smaller hallway. Here she would gain entry to the attic’s stairs. “Hey, you're still following me aren’t you?” Each step replied. The creaking of the floors was one of the many reasons Katie loved living in this old home. “So when we begin doing this, grab any item that gets your attention. We will collect the stuff and select the one most attention-grabbing piece. This is where the real adventure starts.”

Katie lived in her great-grandparents’ home. Her dad told her that his grandfather purchased the home as a kit in 1918 from the Sears Honor Built Modern Homes Catalog. Each generation handed ownership down to one of their descendants. Her dad, an only child, inherited this honor. Katie’s grandparents were no longer living—neither was her mother. Even though they weren’t alive, Katie believed her mom was with her. Sometimes she sensed her grandparents too. At one time they had all lived there together. Every room in this house reminded Katie of her family.  This was the best reason for loving her old house—memories. The home was rich with memories Katie enjoyed living among them.   

“Here we are. Are you ready? You’re not going to believe this” Without hesitancy, Katie gripped the glass doorknob. This portion of the home was for storage but to Katie an abandoned place. Being situated above the central part of the second floor made an odd cross configuration. The exposed trusses created a beautiful vaulted ceiling where the four sections joined. A lone dormer in the section overlooking the street gave everything charm. Packed with antiques and furniture no one used, it had taken Katie the whole first week of vacation to reorganize things into a comfortable space. The reward was huge. Katie discovered her family’s magic. Now, every cabinet and drawer had become home to potential adventures waiting for Katie.

“There might be cobwebs.” Katie swiped in front of her face. The dusty air reeked of old things, but Katie didn’t care. She made her way toward an open space in the middle of the area. “Don’t worry, in a minute; you won’t even know you were here.” Her mouth drew into a grin. “Seriously, because, in a minute, you won’t even be here.”
Katie ran to a cleared space in the center of the room. Here, she could turn around and survey the entire attic. Twirling, she listened for a treasure to call. "What? You've found something? Let me see." Katie rushed over to an old steamer trunk covered in dust. "Wow, that was fast," she said. "Sometimes it happens this fast, but most of the time it takes longer. You're a natural at this."

Katie stood staring at the blackened trunk. Embossed grapevines wound their way over the entire metal surface. Oak wooden slats added strength to the frame, and two latches and a large lock secured its lid. Katie blew some dust hoping to uncover a monogram. Initials would designate which relative it had belonged to, but there were no initials. Katie knelt next to the trunk listening for any message or guidance it might provide.

"Wait, don't touch it," she pleaded. Katie hadn't explained what was going to happen. She hadn't explained that the tracking part of treasure tracking involved little astral projection.


  1. I'm definitely intrigued, the suspense is successfully built. I also find it a bit confusing. You mention the lace a couple times, making that sound important, but it doesn't seem like that could possibly be the thing that follows her up to the attic.
    Beyond being a curious child, I would like to know a bit more about Katie. Maybe there is a way to highlight a key trait with an interaction with her Dad that plays out a tiny bit more (maybe even just another line or two that would hint at what kind of daughter she is to him).
    I get that this "friend" of hers is supposed to be a mystery, but maybe a shape or a sound, or even a response that is unclear whether it is coming from Katie's imagination or the being itself. I felt a bit held back, like I didn't want to formulate a mental image yet - waiting for a better hint.
    Reading yours helped me gain perspective on mine! I think I need to address some of the exact same things in my first 5.

  2. Thank you. I appreciate the advice. The lace isn't important other than being frustrating to Katie, so I can take that back a notch. I will add another line or two for the daughter/father interaction. And, the "friend" is the reader. Do you think I should change that? Make the "friend" a character?

    1. I think it's a great idea to make the reader the friend, but also, like a high level of difficulty dive. If you're able to pull it off it could be quite powerful.

  3. Hi Julie.

    I love what you are doing, but I too was confused with the beginning. I thought that somehow she had turned her bed skirt into an imaginary friend that appeared at a specific time and she was counting down. Which isn't a bad idea, but it wasn't clear. Now that you say she's talking to me, the reader, it makes more sense, but I didn't get that at all from how you told it. I can see it working in a movie, but I'm just not sure how you would do that here.

    I do want to read more because Katie has captured me. But I would like a better picture of her in my mind if by the end of five pages we are already to go to -- where ever it is she is taking us. Astral travel? This could be fun.

  4. Thank you Catherine. Yes, a girl that can turn inanimate object into animated creatures is an excellent idea. Okay, so somehow I need to make it clearer that Katie is talking to the reader, or make a real character out of her friend. I will try to develop Katie more in the first five. Thanks, Julie

  5. Hi Julie! Two of my favorite subjects: MR & H.

    There's a ton of energy in this piece, which is fabulous for middle grade. But here's the thing, especially with magical realism and fantasy: you must set distinct, easy to follow rules for your world right off at the beginning. There doesn't have to be many, but those are ones, as the writer, you won't cross. It's a security for the reader so they become familiar with what is 'real' in the world you're creating and what is the actual, tangible world we live in. I mention this because the first thing I noticed was the words 'quickening time.' I wasn't sure whether to take that literally or just as a phrase and give it now merit. So when she jumps to the floor I figured that phrase wasn't literal.

    I feel for Katie; I really do. Her pain is one some kids will relate to and on different levels even. I just don't know if telling them right at the beginning is the way to go. I think letting that truth come out as the story progresses might be better; showing them. You definitely could hint to it here, even say so, but briefly.

    Ooh, but there's a secret! Kids love secrets. This is good, and so is Katie's demeanor. She seems sweet and approachable. (Just a note about that: you may want to tone her down a little bit at the beginning or give a reason why her demeanor changes so instantly. Because you mention in the opening that she has dwindled her friends down to zero and is sad most of the time. Her excitability doesn't match that. But that's easy to fix. You can come up with anything.)

    I just read in your response that the reader is the 'new' friend. I didn't get that from this, but it's a great idea. I feel like she should address the reader; I'm just not sure how. I like the part where she mentions about 'in case we get separated.' That sounds direct. There is definitely a ton of potential here. You've developed a strong main character. I'm excited to see your revisions.

    1. Thank you for your input. I will am working to rectify all points drawn to my attention. I appreciate your comments.
      Thank you, Julie

  6. This is an exciting read. Is her friend imaginary? Invisible? I want to find out. Also she seems so adorable and adventurous.

    I was a little distracted by the constant "stage direction" between each line of dialog, but the story itself made up for it. Maybe you could cut back on the direction and just allow her to talk? That's just me.

    After reading the beginning again, it made sense that she was just annoyed by the lace, but it's brought up again so I'm not sure. I'm not sure if the lace turns into a lace monster or not.

    Like I said, I'm very intrigued with these first few pages. It sounds like a fun read!

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  9. This piece is interesting, but in all honesty, I have no idea what's going on in it. I couldn't tell if Katie was talking to a ghost or a reader or herself.

    There's also a rather large info dump in the two paragraphs after the dialogue with her father. Can you find a way to introduce this information to the reader slowly, as the story progresses, instead of telling it all right here? After her father leaves, you could hint that she's alone most of the time now and even say that she's been mostly alone since her mother died, but give us the rest of the story slowly as you go along.

    It's a very original piece. Nice work.

    1. Thank you. I appreciate your comments and I am making the recommended changes.

  10. Hi Julie,

    Thanks so much for submitting your pages! I found them really intriguing. But I also found them fairly disorienting. As a few other readers have mentioned, there are places that come across as confusing rather than mysterious -- and that's a line you need to be very careful walking, particularly when you're writing for a middle-grade audience. Kids love mysteries, but most don't like having to work too hard to relate to what they're reading. Your first paragraph is a perfect example of that. Honestly, I had to re-read it a few times to get a sense of whether she really could affect time and if the bed was really alive.

    The other thing that may be likely to confuse readers is the fact that Katie is talking to them. I wasn't sure at first whether she was talking to the bed skirt, an imaginary friend or the reader. After I saw you clarify this in the comments, I think it could be a great way to go, but you'd need to clearly establish that it's the reader Katie is talking to early. Not entirely sure what to suggest you do to establish that fact, but involving the reader in such an intimate way could be very compelling. It almost reminds me of the narrator from the Pseudonymous Bosch books breaking the fourth wall, only in your case it's the main character. That's pretty cool!

    My suggestion in general to you would be to briefly establish Katie's real world more solidly before having her venture (even in dialogue) into the magical world. As S.A. Larsen said above, you need to establish the "rules" for the reader -- what's real, what isn't, where are we now, where are we going to go.

    All this being said, I really like your voice (and Katie's) and I think she will end up being a lovely, super-engaging character as she leads us through this adventure! Well done!

    I'm looking forward to seeing the next round!

    All best,

    1. Thank you. I appreciate your recommendations. I hope the changes I have made work.
      Thanks, Julie