Sunday, October 15, 2017

1st 5 Pages October Workshop - Everett Rev 1

Name: Sam Everett
Genre: Middle Grade fantasy

Chapter 1


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.

Fairies had many different jobs, and a shrug fairy’s was to make her human happy in any small way she could. She 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. If Ben made a hundred and one years out of his life, Mona knew he must have been one of the happiest humans to ever have lived.

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

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 so liked to sleep that she struggled to get him out of bed in time for work each morning. His job was being 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.)

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, because it was Mona’s job to keep her human happy, she received constant training in gadgets, the things that made humans happiest and the things humans understood the least. And so she 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 take time off. And especially not shrug fairies, whose humans always needed their happiness looked after.

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 the fairy province called Evergood, the café most closely resembled a fairy’s natural forest habitat.

It was not without its own danger, however. A flabby cat colored black and grey and orange and white lay under an empty bench outside the front door. Though humans did not believe in fairies, cats did, and took a wicked pleasure in swatting them out of the air. Thankfully this cat, appearing old and in poor shape, could be avoided by a fairy flying only a few feet away from him. But Mona could never be too safe, and so she put fifteen feet between him and herself on her way into the café, and never took her eyes off him making sure he never laid eyes on her.

Once she 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? And, better, what wonderful things would Maw say about her work with Ben?

When she touched down outside 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!” the filing fairy said. One fairy never greeted another without a compliment.

“You are a lovely filing fairy, and I like your mustache,” Mona replied. 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. “I’m here to turn this in and discuss my next assignment with Maw.”

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? I’ve seen fewer years in far larger books.” Then her warmth returned. “I’m sure it’s just that you have small handwriting, no doubt.”

“Don’t we all?”

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

Mona was obligated to return a compliment: “You have the most contagious laugh.”

The filing fairy pointed behind Mona, where a covered tray sat lonely on a table. “Did you help yourself to some angel food?”
Her stomach already full of butterflies, Mona declined. “I think I’d rather just go ahead and get to my meeting with Maw now, thank you. If I’m going to get my next human to a hundred and two, I’d better get started.”

“In that case, I’ll take this book directly to Maw for review,” the filing fairy said, “and you should hear back from us in a couple of days.”

“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?

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


  1. Hi Sam,

    You made some great changes here. Starting with the fact that you tell the reader what a shrug fairy is immediately after using that term.

    I also like that you removed the asterisk footnotes. The paragraph about avoiding the cat is super cute -- Mona putting extra distance between herself and the cat so as not to be swatted. :)

    I would still like to know how Mona feels when she learns she'll have to wait for her next assignment. Can a shrug fairy feel sad? Will her abilities diminish if she doesn't have a purpose?

    Nice work!


  2. Hi Sam,

    Nice work! I loved seeing your revisions and definitely think you've solved the problem of the asterisks and also the description of a shrug fairy. That worked for me, having it explained at the first mention. (Though, it did make me wonder why long life equaled happiness. Seems like he could have lived a very long life and been cantankerous.)

    I still really like her sense of pride, but I also feel like I need more of a goal (or a problem) for Mona. What is this story about? What is Mona's challenge? So far, there's no real conflict for me because everything is great for Mona. You do drop a few tidbits--there's a cat (yay!) but Mona easily works around that danger. Also--there's a hint that her book is very short which could create a problem, but it's brushed off with a joke so there's no tension there. Finally, she has to wait and that's an inconvenience, but it doesn't get my heart pounding for Mona. Can it be more that that? Can you raise the stakes for Mona? Why does she need a human right away? Or, can she be in some kind of trouble? If there's no tension for her, then there's no tension for the reader.

    Right now, you've drawn us in with your wonderful voice and a lovely set up with these fairies. In your next revision, I'd love to see more of a story problem...or at the very least the hint of one to come.

    Keep going--looking forward to seeing where the story goes.

  3. Hi Sam,

    I totally missed he Salisbury steak line the first time, but I love it! I always feel happy when I read this. It definitely works having the shrug fairy info come in earlier. And the use of parentheis is less jarring than the asterisks. The story flows a lot better now.

    I do think we are still losing what Mona feels about having to take a break. Maybe a simple comment like "she lets out a sigh" or "she frowns" after the "A couple of days?" This would at least give us some hint as to how she feels about it (with an expectation that we'd learn more later on). I think that's the only thing I had really, this story sounds really charming!

  4. Sam,

    I read your revision with the same smile I had last week. This story is absolutely adorable.

    With the little bit of rearranging you did, it improved the flow of the story for me. And I love the way Mona avoids the cat.

    I am in agreement with the others. I feel like it's well done in the beginning, but Mona's emotions near the end are somewhat missing. I can infer from her dialogue with the filling fairy that she's not thrilled about the time off, but I think you need to expand on it a bit and give us a deeper look into her emotional response.

    Otherwise, I don't feel like there's anything else I need to point out. Great job!


  5. It's definitely better!

    Be careful with all the 'and' 'and' and then beginning sentences with it. We feel inundated a bit.

    Watch out for alliteration. wings working washed
    And there are a few more.

    We begin the book with the inciting incident, her human dying. I'm wondering if you shouldn't back up a little and instead of telling, show us Mona following her human to the hospital, have him climb into bed, and see her fix the remote to make him happy. The fact that she's not more sad after 101 years is somewhat disconcerting and makes me wonder what's up with that. It's like having your first pet and going out to buy another one the same day it dies. I'd like to see her take a minute and mourn. I suppose it would change the tone, or perhaps she wouldn't mourn and that is also telling us a lot about her, that she actually doesn't feel very strongly about her human assignments.

    I'd also like to know how she feels about her book being so short. This is a great addition to the page that ups the tension and creates a conflict sooner. That's very well done.

    Heather Cashman

  6. Hi Sam,

    Thank you for sharing your revision with us!

    I like the reshuffling you did here. It gives us an opportunity to compare the two versions and see which parts are working better. You still have the same adorable fairy and a story that could really be mesmerizing with a little more elbow grease.

    For me, the opening still does not work, but I think it can with a tweaked approach. Our POV character is Mona. Why, then, isn't the opening line something like:

    "Mona's first human died at the ripe old age of one hundred and one."

    We need an opener that centers Mona, as though the camera is positioned right over HER shoulder, not Ben's. Right now the opening camera is not only on Ben, Mona isn't even in the picture. That needs to shift. Neither kid readers nor agents like to wait to get into the story. Plunge them right in. Put that camera over Mona's shoulder and tell us how she feels about this situation.

    As Ben lays dying, Mona can't help but think of all the special moments she's penned into Ben's book. Hit on how a few of those moments matter TO MONA. She is our character. Her feelings matter the most.

    All of this can be achieved in the opening paragraph, or perhaps 2 paragraphs at most. This touching final moment with Ben should end that scene, ideally on the first page:

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

    With these final words penned, Mona closed Ben’s book,"

    This moment makes us such fans of Mona already!

    It's at this moment of transition out of Ben's life and the closing of his book that Mona should reveal to us her heart's desire, which is perhaps a guilty one. Even while she bids adieu to Ben, she can't help but wonder about who she will be paired with next. It's a sad, exciting, and fearful moment that will hook the reader for sure.

    Right away, show us Mona's goal and her very strong feelings, worries, or fears about being able to achieve it. Right now, Mona comes across as efficient, practical, and almost emotionally removed from this very special moment--more robotic than fairy-like. You need to let the reader in and allow us to connect with Mona's layered emotions so that we can't help but follow her on her journey. My perception of fairies has always been that they experience emotion with even more clarity and strength than humans. Let us see that here.

    Your world has a tremendous amount of potential. I encourage you to revisit the opening of a few favorite middle grade stories as a reference. In our haste to provide details, information, and humor, it can be very easy to leave our character's feelings out, but they are the most important thing to get on the page.

    Good luck as you revise!

    Melanie Conklin
    First Five mentor