Sunday, November 12, 2017

1st 5 Pages November Workshop- Weems Rev 1

Name: Sue L. Weems
Genre: Middle grade, historical mystery

Shadows flickered in the kerosene lamp’s glow as Reb picked at the worn yellow quilt.

“Nobody wants to smell the six-day-stink on a miner on their birthday or any other day,” Reb grumbled. Her momma plaited Reb’s hair, the gentle pull and tug somehow irritating tonight.

“I can’t cancel breakfast. It’s our only income. I’m not taking in boarders with your father away,” her Momma said.

“Except Corky.” Reb smiled thinking of the animated gray-haired, peg leg man who lived downstairs and filled the lunch pails every day.

“Corky isn’t a boarder. He’s practically family, and we couldn’t run the place without him.” Her mother finished off the braid with a torn piece of muslin.

Reb turned. “Don’t you think we ought to try to go to Prescott to check on Daddy?”

“We’ll lose the place for sure if we leave. He’ll be back once he’s settled the paperwork J.R. Martin left. We’ll see about your breakfast request.”

“I don’t see why ol’ Mr. Martin had to leave us this boardinghouse. It’s not like we’re related.”

Her mother stood a stretched her back. “Hush. Don’t speak ill of the dead.”

Reb was tired of being hushed and tired of serving miners meals and tired of waiting for her daddy to get back.

Her momma continued, “Corky sent a message to Prescott with some miners last week. Hopefully one of them will come back with news.”

Reb doubted it. Her momma had said that every week for six weeks. “Corky also said he’d take me to his mine claim for my birthday and we’d find a vein of gold.”

Her momma laughed. “He did not. Stop with your stories.” She hugged Reb and pulled the thin sheet over her. “Night, lightning bug. Keep shining.”

“Still no lightning bugs in the Arizona territory,” Reb said.

Her mother’s smile sagged, and Reb felt a pang of regret. Her momma’s life wasn’t easy either. “Night.”

She rolled over on the scratchy sheets and stared out the window at the last dim streaks of day. She wished Corky had told her he’d take her to his mine. Maybe she could sweet talk him into it. A whistle sounded nearby.

Reb stepped softly from bed and opened the window to see her best friend Sammy perched in a tree. His black hair was rooster-wild in the glow of dusk.

“Already in bed?” he asked. “Sun just went down.”

She rolled her eyes. “Momma said I’m not twelve until tomorrow, so I still have an early bedtime.”

Sammy didn’t reply. He’d probably never had a bedtime.

“Listen, there was something strange tonight out at the big boulder fork.”

She leaned out to hear him. “What was it?”

“Junior Junior’s ghost.”

Reb shivered. “That ain’t funny, Sammy. He’s dead.” Those darn Martins again. She thought about the scrawny Martin boy her age who’d died in the wagon fire this past spring.

“Reb, I swear it! And he mumbled something about your daddy.”

The hair on her arms stood straight up. “What’d he say?”

“I dunno. I high-tailed it outta there.”

Reb sputtered. “But if he said something about my Daddy, then we got to talk to him. Will you show me where tomorrow?”

“It’s at the wagon ruins, past where you’re supposed to…”

“I’m twelve tomorrow, Sammy. I can go where I want. Let’s just keep it quiet, y'hear?”

They made plans to meet after breakfast and Reb watched as Sammy shimmied down the tree.

 The next morning, Reb rubbed her eyes. Light was just dawning over the edge of the canyon through her window. Her birthday! She sat up, delighted to see not one box, but two sitting on the edge of her bed. She already knew the first box was boots from back East— the one thing that her momma splurged on each year. Reb opened it and inhaled the new leather. Tucked down the side of the box was a book of blank pages. On the inside was an inscription:

“Things start to change at twelve, but I know you’re ready. Write down your days to share with Daddy when he returns. We love you so much. Keep shining, Momma and Daddy.”

In the bottom of the box was a quill pen and little glass bottle of ink. Reb set it aside.

She opened the second box and frowned, suddenly glad she wasn’t opening it in front of her mother. Clothes. Reb held up the cream colored shirt, a single simple ruffle along the button line. There was also a calico skirt and underthings.

Reb scowled. She supposed this was her momma’s way of letting her know she was going to be a grown up soon, but Reb wasn’t trading in her pants. Not now and maybe not ever. She pulled on a her favorite trousers with a plaid short sleeve button down shirt, and she tugged on her new boots.

In the stairwell, the gruff voices beneath her rumbled like storm clouds.

“But what’s she running’ around with that boy for, Corky? Ain’t right. Somebody’ll…”

Corky’s voice was crisp. “Shut it, Varner. It’s none of your business.”

Reb froze. One more person trying boss her around. It wasn’t the first time she’d overheard people talk about her best friend Sammy. Reb didn’t understand, except she thought maybe people were nosy since Sammy’s dad supposedly struck it rich and left him and his Ma behind. She couldn’t see how that was Sammy’s fault. No accounting for adults.

Reb tiptoed back up the stairs and made a point to stomp down loud enough to wake the dead. Corky shouted at the men.

“It’s Reb’s birthday, ya filthy animals. Try to be respectable!”

Reb stifled a giggle and jumped down the last two steps, landing with a bang just outside the main dining room.

“Here she is!” Corky yelled. All six tables full of men hollered “happy birthday” along with a chorus of whistles and hoots.

“Thanks, everyone,” Reb said.

“Morning, Corky.” She hugged him round the waist, noting that he must have bathed. He didn’t even have crumbs in his beard.

He grinned. “I’ve got the breakfast shift. We set up a table for you out back. Sammy’s gonna come by in a bit so you can go quail hunting. How’s that sound for a birthday treat?”

“Corky!” her mother emerged from the kitchen with a tray. “We said if she wanted to, remember?”

Corky’s eyes glimmered, and he stomped his peg leg and cane at once. “Kay Harden, nobody said she had to, nobody said it! Why’d she want to go outside when she could stay in here slopping around?”

Kay gave him a warning look and waved him back to work. She led Reb outside.

On the back porch, there was a milking stool with a handkerchief over it. On top, she’d arranged some scrub daisies in a square.

“Thanks, Momma.”

Reb plopped down on the wood planks and dug into breakfast, thankful for the breeze free of miner sounds and smells.

Her fingers were sticky with her third cake when Doc Robbins startled her.

“Well, how’s the birthday girl this morning?” He had a finger stuck in the pocket of his vest like he was about to fish out a coin that never materialized.

“Fine.” She’d learned a long time ago that one word answers cut conversation short, something that came in handy in a mining town.


  1. Hi Sue,

    I enjoyed reading your revision! Especially liked the addition of the conversation with Sammy, and the intriguing mention of the ghost. I also have a better understanding of what her dad’s doing and how long he’s been gone, without feeling overloaded with too much detail.

    I think we need a bit more context at the beginning for Reb’s first line of dialogue, though. Maybe start with her pleading with her mother about her birthday request?

    Loved the description of Sammy (“his black hair was rooster-wild”), and their conversation. I felt like the part with the birthday presents didn’t slow things down too much this time.

    When Reb overhears Varner and Corky talking, how does she know that Varner’s talking about her and Sammy? “That boy” could be anyone—there aren’t really any clues for us to distinguish who he’s referring to.

    I also thought her mother’s reaction to Corky’s suggestion of going quail hunting was a little odd. She seemed upset—did she think they were forcing Reb to do something she didn’t want to do? Or did she just not want Reb out there hunting with the guys? Would be nice to have a better idea of why she’s objecting, as well as a reaction from Reb about whether she’s excited about going hunting or not.

    Great job with this! Looking forward to seeing where you take it next week!

    1. Thanks, Alanna! Great questions for me to work out in this next revision. Appreciate it!

  2. Much better. I love the changes you've incorporated. Opening paragraph hooks the reader quicker. I love that Reb's character, ideas, thoughts, opinions are more accessible here, especially with first person point of view.

    A few suggested changes..."mother wasn't easy"...cut it. No explanation needed I hope.

    Miners: is there a different term that was used back in the day? For ingraining yourself into the era, I'd look into it.

    "Junior Junior's ghost" is introduced without background or emotion. Who is it? Are people afraid? skeptical? Why is this entity or person talking about her dad. I think this would be better played out as a scene seeing who this entity is and why he's speaking of her dad. Also...does it have to be Junior Junior's ghost?

    Much of the dialogue is static. The back and forth between Sammy and Reb is not all that convincing. This is one section I would expand for ease of conversation and believability. It's too quick and not natural.

    Overall, a much better draft. It's cleaner and easier to follow. I'll pose this question to you though: what is Reb's challenge that sets her on her journey? Is it that dad hasn't been heard from? Is it this life she's living and wants to escape? So far, I'm not sure what's her conflict is.

    My gut feeling is that you're starting your story too early. A telegram saying dad is missing, an awful miner that she needs to hide from, etc. There is no conflict thus far presented.

    With any agent or publisher, they will want to know what the problem is and what the stakes are right away. You only have five pages here, but in them we should get a good sense of "the issue". Most of your queries will only allot you so many pages so make them count. Make them capture your reader so that they have no choice, but to ask for more.

    You got this, Sue. Don't hold back on us. If dad is missing, if there is a ghost, if there is a creepy miner...give it to us early so we want to join Reb on her journey.

    1. Wendy,
      Thank you so much for your comments on the previous draft and this one-- great feedback to help me revise this (or scrap it and use another) into the right opening scene.

  3. Hey Sue! Great revisions this week! I loved that you added Sammy in there, since I was especially intrigued by him last week.

    I would almost start the chapter with Reb's quote "Nobody wants to smell.." That's an interesting attention grabbing hook.

    I'm still finding myself wanting just a tad more information on Reb's father and the "paperwork" he's doing for Mr. Martin.

    This is super nitpicky, but the transition from 'Reb watched as Sammy shimmied down the tree' and 'The next morning' felt a little choppy. Maybe say something as simple as "Reb's eyes grew heavy as she watched Sammy shimmy down the tree," just to kind of indicate sleep before she wakes the next morning. Like I said, super nitpicky!

    I'm excited for next week's revisions, good luck!

    1. Hi TK,
      I agree about the transition you mentioned. I had it flagged in the draft, but had already gone over word count. Thanks for affirming my gut feeling that it needed to be smoothed out there. Thanks for the great feedback!

  4. I love this revision Sue! The opening line sets a nice and quick description of the scene. I also like that you've added Sammy into the mix, as he's mentioned last time, but not seen (and I love the "rooster-wild" description).

    This is probably nitpicky, but I had a hard time visualizing the conversation with him in the tree. I read it as this was a secret meeting and I'm picturing him high up and farther away from her window having to yell down to her. Maybe just a little special clarification here. And I'll echo what Wendy said about the conversation--it feels a little to abruptly introduced. I love the idea of the mystery, but I was looking for more setup/emotion.

    I can't wait to see the final revision. Good luck!!

    1. Thanks, Michelle! Great point about her conversation with Sammy--both the location and dialogue. Working on it for the next draft. Appreciate your comments!

  5. Hi Sue,

    I love this revision!! I was immediately pulled into the scene. The opening is mostly dialogue - and it works!! - but I also think you could put in something to slow it down a bit, and bring the reader into the time and place - so maybe adding a little bit of some of the details from your first version in between beats of dialogue would help. Not too much, but the right details. I do like the edition of Sammy, but agree that some more details would help with the logistics of the scene.

    I think you can lose the word "animated" from Corky's description. Also when she hugs him in the morning, it might be a nice sensory detail to describe what he smells like, instead of saying she noted that he must have bathed. Good luck!


    1. Thank you, Robin! I've cut the parts you suggested and will work on which details to trickle in. Appreciate it!

  6. Hey Sue.
    Reb's first line of dialogue is so striking and funny, I'd suggest opening your story with that, and weaving in the description about the lantern etc afterwards.
    I really like how you've woven in expository details via Reb's convo with her mom. It's much clearer and more natural this draft.
    I also really enjoyed the pre-bed chat with Sammy. That's such a great and active way to introduce that character, and I like the adventure that's set up by the news he gives Reb.
    Maybe I'm just hungry, but I'd like a sentence or two describing what she's eating for breakfast.
    I'm super impressed with all the revisions you've made. Looking forward to your final draft!