Saturday, October 7, 2017

1st 5 Pages October Workshop- Everett

Name: Sam Everett
Genre: Middle Grade fantasy



Ben Stiglitz died at a hundred and one, a noteworthy age. He was surrounded by the hospital’s head nurse on duty, a janitor fond of the nurse, and a nun who happened to be asking for directions to another patient’s room. There was no real reason for Ben to have died. He wasn’t sick, and he didn’t fall down stairs or eat a microwaveable Salisbury steak too fast. That morning, he simply locked his front door, took a bus to the hospital, and crawled into a bed to doze off. If he’d had family, they would have heard his nurse say he died from having lived so long.

His tiny shrug fairy Mona O’Naughton was there, too, and she heard it, and it made her smile.

She was certainly sad to lose Ben. He was her first human. She had seen him every day of his life, even if he had never once seen her.* But--a hundred and one! Her human! Her first human!
(*This was the way it was with fairies and humans, regrettably.)

She didn’t know another fairy whose human had lived so long, because getting a human to a hundred and one was a lot of work. When Ben was a baby he put everything into his mouth, and so Mona often found herself in his gullet deflecting pennies and marbles like a horsetail brushing away flies. When he grew to walk, Mona held his shoelaces tight so he wouldn’t fall and cry.

When he became an adult, he didn’t need her magic so much. Some years, all she did in an entire day was wake him up in time to go to work. He did like to sleep, after all. When he was awake, he worked as a counter of some sort at a small desk in a big building. It was the only job he ever had, though Mona never quite understood what exactly he did.*
(*This was the way it was with fairies and counting, regrettably.)

Once Ben was an old man, more and more he tried to eat old food. It seemed every two weeks Mona had to use all her magic dust and all her fairy might to tip a bowl of green muck out of his hands and onto the kitchen floor.* A shrug’s job was to make her human happy, and Mona knew humans were happiest when they weren’t deathly ill.
(*Two weeks being beyond the typical shelf life of cottage cheese, of course.)

The last help Mona would ever be for Ben was making the remote control to the hospital room television work. He didn’t understand this one. It was nothing like the model he’d owned for years. Fortunately, shrug fairies received constant training in gadgets because they were the things that made humans happiest and the things humans understood the least. And so Mona burrowed into the remote control through the button marked 8 and sprinkled her dust in all the right places until she heard Ben’s favorite channel crackle on.

And he watched the television and shut his eyes and went to sleep.

With these final words penned, Mona closed Ben’s book, tucked it into her pouch, and flew immediately to her godmother’s office for her next assignment. Sad as she was, fairies never thought to slow down.

Her godmother, Maw Nora, conducted business from a human coffee shop called the Seaside Café. The old building was decorated in oak wood, and its ground coffee made for an earthy aroma. In all of the fairy province called Evergood, the café most closely resembled a fairy’s natural forest habitat. It had the added benefit of housing no cats.*
(*Though humans did not generally believe in fairies, cats did, and took a wicked pleasure in swatting them out of the air.)

Once Mona entered through the keyhole of the café’s front door, the buzz of fairy wings working washed over her. Hundreds of fairy wings belonging to hundreds of fairies up to provincial business, zig-zagging from countertop to tabletop, from pantry to pastry rack, careful not to fly through a waterfall of steamed milk or between the pages of a closing book.

Maw’s office sat under an upturned mug on a high shelf. Mona approached it with all the bubbling energy of a child before the first day of school. Who, she wondered, would her next human be?

When she touched down outside of the mug, she removed her flight goggles, put on her glasses, and combed the wind out of her dark hair with her fingers. At the mug’s reception window, she was greeted by a filing fairy on the other side of the glass.

“What an adorable shrug fairy!” the filing fairy smiled. Fairies had many different jobs, and a shrug fairy was so named because her magical feats--moving a lost book to a table where a human has already looked, vanishing a jelly stain from a poor girl’s church dress--were the sort to make humans rejoice, mutter I-don’t-know-how-that-happened, and give their shoulders a shrug. “I like your skirt,” was the clerk’s compliment.

“You are a lovely filing fairy, and I like your mustache,” Mona said. The filing fairy’s blond handlebar was no more real than Mona’s neat and clean chevron, but every fairy day was some holiday, and this day was Mustache Day. While the filing fairy proudly fingered one end of her smiling whiskers, Mona dug Ben’s book from her pouch to slide it through the window. “May I turn this in and receive my next assignment?”

The filing fairy patted Mona’s hand. “My deepest sorrows for your loss.”

“Thank you. But at least Ben made it to a hundred and one.”

The filing fairy gave a quizzical look. “A hundred and one years in just this one book you say?” Then her warmth returned. “You have small handwriting, no doubt.”

“Don’t we all?”

The filing fairy threw her head back and laughed. “You should be a chuckle fairy, not a shrug fairy! You should go on tour!”

Mona returned a compliment: “You have the most contagious laugh.”

“Did you help yourself to some cake?” the filing fairy asked. “Please do.”

She pointed behind Mona, where a covered tray sat lonely on a table. On a normal day, Mona would not have hesitated to give that cake some company. But this morning her stomach was otherwise filled with butterflies excited to meet her next human, so she declined.

“I’ll get your human’s book directly to Maw,” the filing fairy said, “and you should hear back from us in a couple of days for your review.”

“A couple of days?” Mona had ironed her best skirt and washed her best cardigan believing she would meet with Maw this morning. What would she do for a couple of days? Fairies never took time off, and especially not shrug fairies, whose humans always needed their happiness looked after.

“This was your first assignment, wasn’t it?” the filing fairy said, amused. “A couple of days is normal, yes. Maw is quite busy, as you know.” She did look after all the fairies in the province. Not to mention there was the fairy shortage needing constant attention.


  1. Hi Sam,

    I read this with a smile on my face! The first paragraph drew me in with the voice and the humor. But I liked how those details were also connected to the character. They were important because they revealed Mona's pride in keeping him alive so long.

    I did like the next section describing Mona's tasks over Ben's life but it felt too long. I'd use only as much as you need as a window into how Mona feels.

    Mona is your main character and I want to know more about her. I found myself wondering if she found her job boring. For years she had almost nothing to do. Do fairies get bored? Do they want to do away with their old humans for a new old? Or is it a big deal to keep a human alive so long? Do you get a prize? Is Mona all about the prize and pride?

    In other words, what makes Mona tick?
    What will make this stronger for me is a sense of why Mona wants a new human so much? What is she hoping for? (Who is she hoping for?) Does she have a goal?

    A few smaller notes: I would maybe hold off on calling her a shrug fairy at the beginning. I found it confusing and I think you can wait and explain the different types of fairies when she gets to the Cafe. Also, the story slows down for me at the Cafe. Why the long conversation and then no meeting? It may all fit in with what comes next, but you want to be sure and keep the story moving forward.

    The asterisks are cute and I liked the first couple. After that, I wondered if there were too many because I felt they pulled me from the story. At this point, I'd probably leave them in and then figure out if ultimately you need them. But I'll be curious to know what others think.

    Hope that helps!

  2. Hi Sam,

    Thank you for sharing your work. Your story is so sweet and engaging.

    I agree with Amy about the asterisk footnotes. The ones that worked for me immediately followed the sentence in question. The others caused me to have to go back and re-read. Also, the first section (life of Ben) seems like we're reading a snippet from Mona's journal, so footnotes would make sense. But in the next section, after she closes Ben's book and tucks it into her pouch, it didn't seem the right time for another asterisk.

    I'd like to know if Mona is sad or stressed out that she won't receive a new assignment right away. Does a shrug fairy's happiness rely solely on the happiness of their human, or do they have their own motivations.

    I really enjoyed reading about Mona O'Naughton, and I suspect you're going to take her on a grand adventure. Nice work.


  3. This sounds like an adorable story! I liked that the story started with Ben's death. Because we're almost immediately introduced to Mona. Her introduction doesn't give readers time to assume this would be a more morbid tale. I liked hearing about how Mona was always there for him and the explanation of a shrug fairy.

    Ben lived to be 101, but what is this time to Mona? She seemed happy he lived that long, but how did it feel like it went by too fast? Too long?

    Also the final paragraphs imply that Mona didn't know there would be downtime. I found this a bit surprising because everything leading up to this makes it seem like Mona know everything she had to do regarding fairy life. She comes off as a very "by-the-books" person. I can understand her being impatient and wanting to get started with a new human, but I was thrown off by her seemingly being surprised that she wouldn't see Maw Nora right away.

    I'm in agreement with the asterisks. I liked the tone of them, but it did feel like were were getting too many of them. And some of them lead to more questions for me (like why do cats specifically believe in fairies).

    But this is a good start!

  4. Sam,

    After reading your pages, I said to my family, out loud, "This is the cutest story I've read in a long time!" and then read to them why she was called a shrug fairy. I love the entire idea behind this.

    I do agree with the asterisks. I actually think you could just put each of the lines in, in place of the actual asterisk. But it didn't really throw me at all - it just broke my train of thought to find the asterisk a little.

    I'm interested to know Mona more. I feel like I know more about Ben than I do Mona, and she's the one I'm going to be following for the next however many pages.

    I feel like my remaining comments very closely resemble the other comments, so I won't be redundant. But it's adorable. I'm excited to see next week's!


  5. Hi Sam,

    This is such a lovely concept. I love the voice, the world you’re building, and your main character. I would certainly want to read more to find out what trouble her next human will get her into!

    That said, I did have some issues:

    It seems to me like shrug fairies are guardian angels as well as making people happy. Perhaps the definition of shrug fairy is too narrow? I see these lines—"A shrug’s job was to make her human happy, and Mona knew humans were happiest when they weren’t deathly ill”—and—"Fairies had many different jobs, and a shrug fairy was so named because her magical feats--moving a lost book to a table where a human has already looked, vanishing a jelly stain from a poor girl’s church dress--were the sort to make humans rejoice, mutter I-don’t-know-how-that-happened, and give their shoulders a shrug.” Perhaps if they were together, I would get what Mona’s job was.

    I did not know the fairy was writing in a book until she closed the book. When I reread and noted the fairy talks about herself in the third person, I understood why I didn’t. Are these paragraphs supposed to be entries in a journal? Or her thinking about the entries she’s already made? It’s not clear without some sense of setting context. Where is she writing? At the hospital? In his room? Is she sitting on his bed or some type of fairy desk? The way these first paragraphs read to me now is like a prologue—I’m being told something for future reference. If it was set more in a scene with the above questions answered, I think I would be more grounded in Mona as a fairy with a human assignment.

    I also thought for a moment that Ben was the main character, even though it didn’t make sense in a MG story. Perhaps making this first paragraphs more journal-like would solve these problems for me. And in between entries/paragraphs, you could address the items Amy Fellner Dominy mentions about boredom, goals, etc.

    Once the fairy got to the café, you get into scene so I was better grounded. I knew what she was, where she was, and what her intent was. I agree that it may go on a bit too long (I don’t think you need the part about Mustache Day, for example), but I like the information conveyed. It gives me a wonderful sense of what the world will be like.

    I agree about holding off calling her a shrug fairy until the café and the asterisks. I wanted the explanation right after the entry, not later.
    All in all, a lovely opening.


  6. Hi Sam!

    Thank you for sharing your work with us.

    There's a lot to love here, particularly the voice and the interesting twist on the fairy trope. The dialogue was charming and the world-building is unique and compelling.

    Where I see the most room for improvement is in the introduction to the world and setting the central story question.

    At the opening, we are first introduced to an elderly character who died, which could be odd for middle grade, but the third person voice allows more leeway, so good choice there. It's also good that you get to Mona first, but I found this sentence disorienting:

    "His tiny shrug fairy Mona O’Naughton was there, too,"

    When I hit the word "shrug" I went back to re-read, assuming I'd misread. But I hadn't, and there wasn't an immediate explanation, so I wondered if it might be a typo. As we continue, we learn that Mona is a particular type of fairy and what that that entails, but we need that information sooner in order to avoid a disorienting start to the read. Something that kicks the reader out of the story on the first page can lead to them setting the story aside quite quickly, as they may assume the whole read will be equally confusing. Whatever approach you take, try to lead us in by spoonfuls so that we can follow easily, without stopping to re-read or figure anything out. It would also be good to limit some of the exposition about Ben, as the story starts to seem more about him than Mona, which leads to my next question.

    What is the central story question?

    By the end of this selection, we should have some idea of where we're going. Right now, we know that Mona will get a new assignment, but we don't have very much idea how she feels about it or what her prospects are, so there isn't a lot that keeps us turning pages other than a general interest in Mona's character and world. In order for that to be compelling enough to keep reading, the world would have to be exceptional, with vivid and unique details that trigger all of the senses. It would be better to start to hint at what the central story question is, especially as this is middle grade and so we need to know *how* it fits middle grade, exactly. Give us a trail of breadcrumbs. The best stories introduce a question in the first line, another by the end of the first paragraph, and more throughout the opening scene in order to keep hooking the reader and pulling them into the story.

    Regarding the asterisks, there may be too many, or it may be better to incorporate that pithy voice into the flow of the story. While I can decode them, they might be frustrating to younger readers, and again we don't want to give the reader a single reason to put your story down.

    Best of luck with your revisions! I can't wait to see what you do next!

    Melanie Conklin
    First Five mentor

  7. Love the voice! You've got great humor and a talent for words.
    What got me was the telling. In the beginning, I thought we were hearing a story, but then it changes with the journal. I had similar issues as Melanie with the re-reading, etc.

    My biggest suggestions would be to turn as much into forward action as possible. Let us see her flying and get swatted at by a cat. How does she feel? How dangerous is it for her? Give us some internalization and show more emotion through her reactions. Does she hiss back at the cat or become terrified?

    Let us see the mustache in a description or dialogue tag and then have the shrug fairy internalize. For instance:
    “What an adorable shrug fairy!” When the filing fairy smiled, her mustache tilted to one side.
    The shrug fairy realized today was Mustache Day and was glad she forgot. She hated how the fake ones scratched and tickled.

    One more note, we could use more sensory details.

    When telling is needed, keep it as close as you can to when it's needed to avoid confusion.

    By the end of this first five pages, though, you've accomplished a lot.

    Can't wait to see it next week!