Sunday, June 11, 2017

1st 5 Pages June Workshop - Franz Rev 1

Name: Jason Franz
Genre: Middle Grade; Adventure/Mystery
Title: Sixth Grade Secret Service

Chapter 1
Monday 2:25P.M. 

The air in our crowded classroom was still. Which wasn’t a good thing because the JV jocks had been training extra hard for the weekend’s big game between our North Washington Allies and the South Washington X-Patriots, and I could smell some of them had skipped the showers.

Tibby Roosevelt sat in the desk across from mine. Her eyes were fixated on the row of past class presidents’ pictures above the whiteboard, specifically to the empty space at the end.

Her space.

Tibby hadn’t blinked in over a minute and I was starting to worry when a loud burp from the jock’s corner of the room startled her out of her trance. “You know Abraham, as my first act as class president, I’m going to make you head of my security.”

My eyes bulged. “You sure that’s a good idea—have you forgotten what my family is known for?”

“No, smart guy, I haven’t.”

I loved listening to the girl talk. The slight South African accent she’d gotten from her mother made Tibby sound more sincere and wise than most girls our age. It was somehow soothing, even when we argued.

“Except—why did Grandpa Jessup leave President Lincoln’s balcony, again?” She asked.

“Oh I don’t know.” I said. “I think he went to concessions for a box of DOTS, or something. The point is Lincoln asked a Truman to be his secret service, just like you are now, and look where it got him.”

Tibby looked at me like I looked at my alarm clock (annoyed and a little disgusted).

“Don’t give me that, you know it’s not a single case of bad luck. Happened again when my great…great…great…” I trailed off, losing count of my greats, “…whatever, grandpa Clyde tripped over his shoelaces and stepped away from Kennedy’s car...”

“What a coincidence,” Tibby said, pointing at my untied shoe.

I leaned over and started tying. “If Grandpa Clyde had just gotten mister bunny ears outta the hole a little faster we could have avoided a national tragedy.” I looked down at my laces and frowned at the knotted mess I’d made.

“Are ya done, yet?” Tibby asked.

“Oh, I could go on,” I said, quickly stuffing the laces under the tongue of my shoe before Tibby could see. “But what’s the point? Either way I’m not doing it. Besides, I don’t think sixth grade Class President gets their own secret service anyway. I mean what’s the worst that could happen? Spitballs?”

“Excuse me?” she said. “You’re not the one whose bike brakes stopped mysteriously working two hours after I announced my campaign against him.” Tibby gazed past me, looking horrified for a moment. “I had no idea until I started down that big hill…”

I located the suspected saboteur. It wasn’t difficult. Chaz Nixon had bright red hair on top of this big ol’ forehead that made you wonder how closely related he might be to the missing link. I glared at him as he kissed one of his biceps. Sure, he was North Washington’s best athlete, but that didn’t give him the right to trip kids who already had enough trouble getting across the cafeteria without spilling their food (namely me). He was also known to force his teammates to scrub down the toilet for him.

With a tooth brush.

Before (and after), he used it.

I shuddered. That was just the way he wielded MVP status. I couldn’t imagine what he would do with executive power over the whole class.

“I just don’t know what Ms. Sunny was thinking—making the candidate not elected president second in command.”

Duh, I almost said. But instead I imitated the history teacher’s high, perky voice and, with a big fake smile, chimed “Because this way, everybody wins! Yaaaay!”

Everybody except Tibby.

She barely smiled as she eyeballed Chaz again. “Abe, there’s no telling what he’ll do if I win. He could already be plotting how to get me outta the way. I need security, and good or bad, you have the most experience.”

I sat back in my chair, arms crossed. “I have a better idea, why don’t you just quit if you’re so worried?” You don’t owe anyone anything.”

Tibby furrowed her brow. Very serious. “Just myself. One day when I’m running the country, I’ll be able to look back on this election as the start of everything. I won’t let Chaz take that from me.”

I blinked—just blinked. I didn’t even know what I wanted to do after school, and here Tibby was—already President of the United Sates. “You know you take middle school waaaay too seriously, right?”

Tibby let the air out of her lungs slowly. “You think I’m over reacting?”

I did. “Of course not! It’s just—you really think I can protect you—from THAT?” I threw my hand in Chaz’s direction as he crushed an empty soda can with nothing but his desk and his giant forehead, leaving behind a bright red mark. Yeah, like he needed to draw more attention to that billboard.

“Abe, there’s something amazing in all of us, you just haven’t gotten to prove it yet. So what if after Kennedy your family got stuck changing the Presidents’ babies’ diapers or walking their mutts? Your dad and brother are like the Batman and Robin of the Secret Service now. Wouldn’t you take after family from this century?”

“You’d think so.” I leaned forward. “But this is definitely Grandpa Jessup’s hairline.”

Of course Tibby didn’t get it. She’d gotten her mom’s long, dark hair. Like usual, she had it held back with the headband she’d gotten when her family took her to meet her grandmother in South Africa for the first time. Together they’d dyed the beads tan, red and purple using wild African flowers. It was Tibby’s favorite and, according to her, made her look good in anything she wore.

I thought she looked good with or without it.

“I’m already the son that’s “accidentally” left behind at the supermarket. If I agree to do this and fail, which I would, my parents probably won’t even claim me on their taxes.”

Tibby shook her head, her curls bobbing. “You’re just a broken pony aren’t you?”

I smirked. “I’m realistic. And this is a pattern. No one else lost the football trying out for the team—then had to buy a new one with their allowance! And last year, after the presidential fitness test, Coach O’ Hern said I owed points!”

Tibby’s eyes lit up. “Oh! We’re doing this? Then don’t forget the time you were on crew for the school play…”

I smacked my desk, the thud turned a few heads. “Right! See, everything I touch either costs something me or goes crashing through the stage wall into the science room. You really want on that list?”

“You think you’re so different. But we all share the same ancestry.”

She always did that—quoted her mother’s Tswana wisdom. “And that means…”

“It means we are all the same—you’re no less than any other sixth grader.”

“Hah!” Chaz bolstered.

Great. He’d overheard. A pit grew in my gut as Chaz puffed out his chest and strode over, his big stupid arms swinging like big stupid sausages. “That’s nice, Tibby, but as Chaz joins us, I’m reminded of some Truman family wisdom: watch out for cow pies.”


  1. Jason, great job revising! You see? You didn't need that prologue at all. You've incorporated it effortlessly into the dialogue. I'm not wild, however, about your first paragraph. I think Tibby is much more important to the story than the jocks who forgot to shower. I'd suggest you switch the first and 2nd paragraphs, like so:
    Tibby Roosevelt's eyes were fixated on the row of past class presidents’ pictures above the whiteboard, specifically to the empty space at the end.
    Her space.
    The air in our crowded classroom was still. Which wasn’t a good thing because the JV jocks had been training extra hard for the weekend’s big game between our North Washington Allies and the South Washington X-Patriots, and I could smell some of them had skipped the showers.
    This way, the focus shifts from the stench to Tibby and her aspiration to be the class President, which is what drives your story.
    A question about Chaz. Why would he use a toothbrush after it was used to clean the toilet? Or do you mean he made the kids clean the toilet and then use it on themselves? Then you should rephrase that. Right now, 'he' connects us to Chaz, making it sound like he's the one who uses it before and after:
    He was also known to force his teammates to scrub down the toilet for him.
    With a tooth brush.
    Before (and after), he used it.

    There's a typo in: “Right! See, everything I touch either costs something me or goes crashing through the stage wall into the science room." That should be costs me something ;)

    And finally, I LOVE, LOVE the humor. Love every single description of Chaz, his sausage arms, his forehead of steel, etc. etc. But I still feel like your story reads YA, not MG. Maybe you should consider making Tibby and Abe 8th or 9th graders instead of 6th graders? My 5th grader would never spout something like: my parents probably won’t even claim me on their taxes.

    1. It just occurred to me that you meant before and after Chaz used the toilet, not the toothbrush! haha. Your choice to bring the toothbrush into the equation made my mind automatically switch gears. Ignore my comment on this.

  2. Thanks gea, the tooth brush thing is actually supposed to mean they have to scrub the toilet down before and after he uses the toilet. I will rephrase. I will also work on dome of the jokes...Abe has an older brother, so maybe that thing about the taxes is a remark he heard his older brother say and Abe doesn't really get it. This is something that could work for a few of the jokes here, I think. Thanks for making me take a deeper look at it! I would love to make a series out of this as they age so I want to keep them younger for this book but the humor and Abe's voice not sounding so much older is something ill have to keep watching out for.

    As far as the typo...I can't believe I missed that! No matter how many times I read it over...thanks for telling me :)

  3. Hey Jason!

    You know how much I'm into this story, so with that I'm gonna say for me personally, (unpopular opinion) I miss the intro. I loved the set up it gave and really pulled me into the story. Not that this doesn't, but hey, I just wanted you to know I loved the beginning before.

    Now this edit I did love, too. You have a really great sense of humor, one that comes out very well in your characters. Bravo. I love how enthralled Ab is with Tibby. It's too cute.

    It's hard for me to give you any real good feedback that you can use because I really loved it so much, and I am by no means a line editor. Haha. I will once again just say that I miss a bit of backstory from your intro, if you could incorporate it into it, for me that would be fabulous. Other than that fantastic job! Can't wait to see what you do next!

  4. Thanks so much, Kristina! I'm glad you enjoy it! If we were in the Hunger Games I think alliances would form over exposition and backstory, lol. I used to think it was just a styling choice, but with the feedback I've gotten through this workshop and others, I'm slowly understanding and accepting, that this isn't the case.

  5. I like some of the changes you made. Your 2nd paragraph, starting in with Tibby is good. The opening line and paragraph are missing the snappy rhythm and voice that was great in your initial draft, so might want to think for a rewrite. You left out the line about eyes and ears on the speaker, which takes away all the tension.

    I'm in agreement with Kristina--I like the previous intro, and think it could work--as a kid, he's probably heard the family history a hundred time. Just drop a few of the obscure references (Bunny Ears threw me the first time) it could still work better than the dialogue.

    You asked last week if it seemed like you were coming on too strong with Tibby’s Tswana heritage. I think maybe you are. It’s not natural to have Abraham reflect on Tibby’s accent in the course of everyday conversation. If it’s important to weave it in, you might try doing so when she is actually quoting her mom’s Tswana saying. It feels to me like her headband is important, but you can give more detail on that later, right now it might be enough to describe it as “South African red, purple and tan beaded headband she always wore.” Or something similarly simply stated.

    I like the ramped up conflict at the end of this passage as Chaz comes over to intimidate, but the pace before seems to lag in a few places. You have some redundancies, or unnecessary telling of what you show us immediately after. Like “I shuddered” followed up by “I couldn’t imagine what he’d do.” Or “Tibby furrowed her brow. Very serious.” That idea is communicated by Abraham’s reaction “You know you take middle school waaay too seriously.”
    This repetition of ideas slows down the pace, and dilutes the voice.

    I see you’ve removed some of the vocabulary and asides that might have sounded too adult. You need to fill back in with more youthful humor (and even one ‘over your head’ reference might be okay, I think kids like a challenge.)

    I think if you tighten up the repetitious descriptions during the dialogue, you’ll have space to get us a little further into the confrontation with Chaz, which should be good. And I still want a little more clarity on What is Abe’s Goal. With this revision, I get the feeling that his “family history” is something he’d rather avoid, and it’s Tibby who’s pressuring him to step up, but that could still be shown more strongly.

    finally, I'll say--this one is clearer and more MG, but the first one was funnier, so ya know, shoot for the middle?

    Good luck.

  6. Hi Maria! Some really good points. Could you clarify a little more on what you mean by you wanting "more clarity of Abe's goal"? Do mean what it is right now or for the book as a whole? At the moment he just wants to get through the sixth grade without family-history repeating, however, once Tibby disappears, his goal shifts to finding her and proving that he can do this--to himself and to everyone else, but that's a progression that doesn't start until the next chapter and then goes throughout the book.

    1. I think that's whats confusin to me. Get through 6th grade without family history repeating? I mean, it's not likely that someone will get assassinated in 6th grade. You reference some general bad luck, does he have a plan for how he's going to avoid bad luck, or turn things around? This could give him an immediate goal and motivation for his response to Tibby's request. Along the lines of "I'm breaking the family curse, remember? Nothing risky this year!" That's just one suggestion.

      Now, you've got me thinking more. If Tibby disappears, seems like this story might take a more serious turn? If so, your first chapter with ludicrous humor might need to stay toned down. Cuz I was expecting middle school hijinks, not an outright mystery/abduction.

  7. Hi! You did a great job at revising. It has improved immensely and I really enjoyed it. I love your use of parentheses- very fun!

    I really don't have too many notes. My main takeaway is that these characters still read as though they are way older than middle schoolers. It's hard for me to imagine a 13 year old talking about his or her parents taxes. With that being said, it's hard for me to imagine you giving them a much younger voice. Unless there is some important reason they are in middle school, I'd make them older and set them of high school age.

    Also, I'm not sure the bit about the toothbrushes landed. I'd probably just take that out.

    Other than that, great work!

  8. Hey Jason,

    Very nice job with the revisions! Really, really well done! You've made some pretty big changes to this scene and I think they're all for the better. There's not a whole lot I can fault you for here, other than a couple of rough spots that tripped me up a little. If you don't already do this, it's always a good idea to read your work out loud to see how it sounds -- sometimes that can help you catch areas that need a little extra polish.

    One thing I'd love to see: when Abe says, “Oh, I could go on,” I wish he WOULD go on. It would not only be funny if he went into a brief litany of Truman missteps, but it would help really establish the family curse. Maybe even when his relatives were relegated to minding presidential pets, they were still cursed. For example, a Truman lost Reagan's dog which put Ronnie in a bad mood jusrt before talks with Gorbachev and almost started WWIII with the Soviet Union. Or maybe you can come up with other instances where the Trumans come across as truly hopeless, even when dealing with small-scale stuff. That would also help with the stakes of this story by showing that even with something as seemingly inconsequential as guarding the sixth-grade class president, a Truman can manage to precipitate a disaster.

    I do want to address something that I see coming up in other people's comments: that is the age of the voice. I don't see anything here that concerns me in that regard. I actually think your voice is right on target. (However, the "claim me on their taxes" line may miss the mark a little. I'm guessing you could come up with something funnier than that line.) But I wouldn't change the way Abe or Tibby speak -- their characters come to life so nicely in such a short space that "writing them down to a middle-grade audience" risks losing some of their dimensionality, in my opinion.

    So, bottom line here: great stuff! I'd say you're at the fine tuning point for the next round. Read, reread and re-reread and have a trusted critique partner read and then revise and revise some more until every word sings.

    Can't wait to see the final round!

    All best,

  9. Wow Bob, thank you so much! I'm so glad you are liking it. I liked your an earlier draft I had a few more examples but cut that scene as the person I was working with at the time felt the way I had it was too forced.

    He was right about that.

    I was going to scrap this scene for this round too but it feels so nataural. that, plus your enthusiasm, has convinced me to keep it!

    Thanks so much for your support and for everyone's! This experience has certainly showed me what is working and what isn't working in my book, and I'm just so thankful to Erin, the mentors and my fellow participants!