Sunday, November 12, 2017

1st 5 Pages November Workshop- Fohlin Rev 1

Name: Michelle Fohlin
Title: Daughter of the Forest
Genre: Contemporary/Historical with fantasy elements


April 1755, Princeton, Massachusetts

Lucy Keyes is farther away from her house than she’s comfortable with. “Wait for me!” she calls to her two older sisters. They haven’t yet realized she’s close behind them.

The girls turn to her and Patty, the oldest, heaves a sigh. Lucy is sure they’ll say something about not wanting to watch after a little baby, that she’ll spoil their day. But she can take care of herself. She’s not that much smaller than they are. And why should they have all the fun at the lake while she stays at home watching Mother spin wool?

Anna, tugging at a plait the color of a fawn’s hide, speaks. “You shouldn’t be here, Lucy.” She says it softly but it’s laced with a firmness that makes Lucy’s heart lurch. “Go back home to Mama.” They turn around and continue on their way, without a backward glance. The elms on either side of the leaf littered path swallow them up, leaving Lucy stranded. She expected them to argue with her about having followed them into the woods, but she didn’t expect them to just leave her.

She lets her arms flop to her sides and her head droops. Her sisters’ laughter trails back to her and it makes her eyes sting. She doesn’t want to cry, she’s not a baby, but there’s nothing she can do to stop a fat tear from coloring a rock at her feet.

Patty and Anna are out of sight, and she can’t tell what direction they’ve gone. Somewhere to her left, a single blue jay’s call cuts through the still air. It, too, sounds like it’s laughing at her. She grabs the rock, now wet from her tears, and throws it towards the bird. The stone doesn’t get very far, but she’s satisfied as wings flap away.

Her vision is still blurred, and she wipes the tears with an angry swipe. But clarity doesn’t make her feel any better. Her stomach flips. In every direction there are trees, no matter how many times she turns around. She can’t see the path she took here, the one that would lead her home. There’s also no path to Patty and Anna. She can’t see her sisters, can’t hear them. Why didn’t they just let her accompany them to the lake?

Oh  pickles, she thinks. What have I done? The milk she drank for breakfast sits sourly in the bottom of her stomach, and it threatens to make another appearance.

“Patty? Anna?” She hears the hitch in her voice. Is that what panic sounds like? She doesn’t know why she’s calling for them, there’s no way they’ll hear her through all these trees.


She waits, listens. But her voice is lost in the evergreens. Not even her echo calls back.


A twig snaps in the distance and she turns her head to see who—or what—it is. She can’t make out anything, but she does hear more sticks breaking under someone’s—or something’s— feet. Oh I hope I hope I HOPE it’s not a bear. Her heart beats faster, in time with her shallow breaths.

“Mama?” Her voice shakes.

A large figure comes into view, but it’s not her mother and it’s not a bear. It’s a neighbor, but she doesn’t remember his name, only overheard snippets of a secretive conversation between her parents.

“Martha, he’ll stop at nothing to get back at us,” Papa had said. She strained to hear her mother, but only a sigh reached her ears. Papa’s answer was barely a whisper. “He thinks we stole his land.”

And now he’s looking at her as though she’s nothing but dead flies in his sugar pot.

“Hello? Mister? Can you help me?” Lucy tries her sweetest girl-eye face on him as he comes closer, breathing like an angry bull.

She balls her fists, squeezes her nails into her palms. “Can you help me find my Mama and Papa?”

Still he says nothing. Run, Lucy, says the tiny voice in her head, but her feet are frozen to the earth, even though her legs are shaking.

“You did me wrong, Robert,” he says finally, and that makes no sense, because Robert is her father. I’m Lucy, she thinks, I don’t look like Papa at all. She tries to scream, but it’s nothing but a bubble stuck in her throat.

He comes closer still, and raises his fist as if about to strike.

Sweet, sour pickles!

A thousand thoughts flutter through her mind and as his arm lowers—oh so quickly!—toward her head, the last lingered like a winter breeze, chilly and forbidding. Why did my sisters abandon me?


December, Present Day, Mount Wachusett, Princeton, Massachusetts

Jemma blew a plume of frosty breath. Good grief, Massachusetts was cold. It had been a year since her family moved here from Hawaii, and she hated it. Sure, the snow was cool the first time she had seen it, but nothing beat air perfumed by plumeria and year-round temps that hovered in the 80s. A lifetime in the tropics taught her that. Even though her lifetime was only eleven years.

But she had to remember she was here for Grandpa Ted.

She adjusted her gloves and the knit band keeping her ears from freezing off her head, cinched her hood tighter around her chin. Then she gripped her poles as her twin brother, Jaxon, flew past her. Trust him to master skiing after a single lesson while Jemma wobbled around looking like a newborn giraffe.

“Come on, Jem! You’ll be great!” he called after her, white powder spraying her goggles.

Skiing had been her dad’s idea. He wanted his family to become involved in one of his childhood loves in the hopes it would soften their uprooting. Everyone, even her four-year-old sister, Nora, got the hang of it. Everyone, that is, except the baby giraffe.

“Be there in a sec!” she shouted, though only Mother Nature heard her; Jaxon was nearly halfway down the hill. Alright, you goofus. Easy peasy, hugs and squeezies. You got this.

With a final inhalation that chilled her lungs, she set off down the hill, praying that she wouldn’t end up rolling like a tumbleweed to the bottom. I got this. She needed to make one of these runs side by side with her brother. If she could prove she could do something, anything athletic here, she might have a chance of getting them to hang out again like they always did as little kids. Ever since they moved, and especially since they started middle school and he joined every team he could, she and Jaxon drifted farther apart.

She gained speed and her heart beat a persistent thrum in her chest. She was doing it! Her knees wobbled a couple times, but she hadn’t fallen yet. Ha! She loved winter! She was killing it!

And then a high feminine scream cut through the night, followed by a keening wail that sounded more wounded animal than human. Terror shot through her stomach, worse than her nerves on the first day of school and she lost all balance. Her imagination ran wild: did she just hear an attack? And was it bad she thought it worse that an entire mountain full of people watched her fall? She careened down the rest of the hill on her side, skis askew in the air, the unknown woman’s grief providing the soundtrack to her embarrassment and fear.


  1. Hi Michelle,

    You’ve made some great changes to this! I especially liked Jemma’s section. The voice there felt much more MG to me this time, and I loved the first paragraph. Also liked that you gave us a little info about the reason for their move—just enough to pique our interest. Nicely done!

    Lucy’s section could use a bit more tightening, though. I didn’t feel like the first line was especially gripping, and some things could probably be cut to move the action along (such as the sentences, ”She expected them to argue with her…” and, “She lets her arms flop to her sides…” and most of the blue jay paragraph).

    I like her initial exclamation of “oh pickles,” but it does add a kind of goofy vibe that seems incongruous as the scene goes on and becomes more menacing. I felt a lot more of her fear in the sentence, “Oh I hope I hope I HOPE it’s not a bear.”

    I also liked knowing a bit more back story about the conflict with their neighbor, but I’m not sure it worked to interrupt the action to flash back on her parents' conversation. Maybe just summarize the gist of it… “It’s that neighbor who thinks we stole his land” or something like that.

    Jemma’s section was fun to read. I could really feel her exuberance as she picked up speed and thought “Ha! She loved winter! She was killing it!” Loved that. Just a couple small things: I found the transition from “You got this” to “I got this” a bit confusing—might be a little smoother to stick with one or the other. The part about the scream at the end was clearer, but one sentence tripped me up: “And was it bad she thought it worse that an entire mountain full of people watched her fall?” I take it that she felt conflicted about being more embarrassed about falling than scared about the scream. I like this, because it feels like a realistic reaction, but it was a little hard to follow as written.

    Great job on this revision! I look forward to reading the next one!

  2. Thanks Alanna! Yeah, I've been struggling with a good opening line for this. I'll definitely look at cutting some of the description as well, so I'm not sacrificing the action.

  3. Hi Michelle,
    I really love how you clarified Jemma's section. Her age is much clearer to me in this one, and we understand that there is more to her family's decision to move by the mention of the grandfather. Also, the action is more unified in this version for me, with the scream causing her both alarm and her fall causing embarrassment.

    I'm not sure about the section with Lucy. I'm not sure of her age. I wonder if it is because her voice seems to shift with some of the language: for example she seems very young when she says "Pickles" and "bubble stuck in her throat" but much older in places like "why didn't they let her accompany them" and "threatens to make another appearance".

    Also, this analogy didn't seem to convey his anger: "And now he’s looking at her as though she’s nothing but dead flies in his sugar pot." (dead flies would cause distaste, maybe, but not the kind of anger that will cause him to strike her down, right?)
    I do like how you sped the pace both when she hears the noise of him coming through the trees (paragraph starting with the twig snapping) as well as the final paragraph of that section where his hand comes down on her head.
    I am rooting for both characters you present though, and want to find out what happens next. Good luck as you revise again this week!

  4. Hey Michelle, I loved the addition of 'pickles' to Lucy's section. It really gave a more unique voice to that character and showed her young age. I know I suggested the conversation last week, for clarification, but it does seem a little choppy, so as Alanna suggested, maybe just summarize it?

    I loved Jemma's POV, and agree with Sue that her age is much clearer.

    Great job and I can't wait to read your last revision!

  5. Hi Michelle!

    This is a nice revision! Jemma's part really comes alive here - I like what you've done with it. Lucy's part could still use some tightening to ratchet up the tension. I'm not sure third person present works here - are you trying to make it different from Jemma's chapter? It feels too much like reporting as opposed to experiencing it. I'm a fan of opening with dialogue and I just went back to your other opening and thought that worked better than this one. If you start with "Wait for me," - the reader is immediately introduced into the action. Also you might consider adding in some dialogue in the opening paragraphs instead of telling us the girls are annoyed with her. I agree with Alanna - the repetition of "pickles" adds a goofiness to the scene. And I'm still not sure how old she is. I would also suggest simplifying your sentences - this is how I might edit the following passage (it's hard to just do this in the comments!) (the sixth paragraph above)


    She wipes away her tears. In every direction there are trees, no matter how many times she turns around. She can’t see the path she took here, the one that would lead her home. There’s also no path to Patty and Anna. She can’t see her sisters, can’t hear them. Why didn’t they let her accompany them to the lake?

    Any time you can cut words, and simplify an action - consider doing it. Trust the reader to pick up on the nuances of the scene, rather than make it over dramatic. (i.e. the paragraph that begins with her arms flopping, head drooping...just read the paragraph without that works, we can identify with her humiliation because we've all been laughed at, at one time or another.)

    I also agree with Sue about "the flies in the sugar pot" line - I really love that line, it's so evocative, and I know the last time I told you to cut this line...

    Like he hates all children and wants them all gone.

    It wasn't clear in the last version that this man would hurt her but your addition of "as his arm lowers, oh so quickly" makes it seem like he's going to strike her (or worse) so maybe you could add that above line back in? I think you're trying to go for what a child of the 1700's might say - but "Sweet, sour pickles" makes it too cutesy and takes away from the power of the last paragraph.

    And this might be a formatting on the blog issue, but you also might consider setting the line "Why did my sisters abandon me?" apart to make it resonate more.

    This story is really intriguing, can't wait to read your pitch!!


    1. Thanks Robin! I was looking for something 1700s-ish and found that our term "in a pickle" comes from colonial times. But it doesn't really convey the seriousness of what historically happens to this girl!

  6. Hey Michelle.
    There are some great improvements here! Everything is much clearer, and I found Jemma's section in particular to be so much more vivid and alive than before. The opening paragraph of that section is really great.
    While the Lucy section feels clearer and more focused, I do think we've lost a bit of the scared little girl voice that I found compelling in your first draft. Your opening paragraph, even the opening sentence, don't feel true to the voice of a little girl.
    All of the stuff with the sisters read much more clearly this time.
    I would like more physical description of the neighbor man.
    I didn't love the "pickles" thing. It seemed kind of humorous, which would be misplaced and I don't think that's what you were going for. It also feels maybe too modern. It could be something like "pickled carrots" or I don't know what just to feel more in line with the times.
    Great work and I'm looking forward to seeing your next draft!

    1. Thanks Steph! I'll work on adding more fear into Lucy. You're right, she should be scared.

  7. Hi Michelle,

    Sorry for the slightly late comments -- it's been a crazy week. I think you've made some nice improvements in this revision, particularly to Jemma's section.

    But Lucy's section isn't entirely there yet. I think you can tighten it up more. I wonder if you even need the sisters to appear at all in the prologue. Maybe you can pick up the action after Lucy is already lost. Of course, if the sisters play a big role later in the book, you may need to keep them in. But anything to slim down that prologue would be helpful in my opinion.

    But overall, I'm still having some trouble with these pages -- and I think I just figured out why. By having these two unconnected sections, you're stopping the reader cold in her tracks just as things start to pick up. The two scenes seem so unrelated (other than by location) that it's hard to understand what direction the story is going. I still don't know whether this is Lucy's book or Jemma's or both. Seeing your pitch might help, but I miss the momentum I feel when I'm seeing a cohesive first five pages.

    Ultimately, to me this feels like a structure question. Is there any way to either extend Lucy's section to give the reader more to go on, or start with Jemma's section and flashback only after we learn more about what's happening in the contemporary story? As it stands, I feel like you're giving neither Lucy's or Jemma's story the room it needs to breathe.

    Something to think about. I hope you find it helpful.

    Looking forward to seeing the next round!

    Rob, 1st 5 Pages mentor

    1. Thanks Rob, helpful comments! This has been harder than expected--it's so difficult when I can't give any more pages...I promise it all connects :D Looking to incorporating the recommendations!