Sunday, November 19, 2017

1st 5 Pages November Workshop- Weems Rev 2

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


Gold! That’s what everyone’s chasing in the Arizona territory in 1890—everyone but Rebekah “Reb” Harden. Reb’s father disappeared six weeks ago on his way to settle an inheritance from a man who died in a wagon fire, and Reb’s determined to find out what happened before they lose their land.

When she and her best friend Sammy set out to look for clues, the ghost of Junior Junior, who died with his father in the wagon fire, offers to help in exchange for bringing his killers to justice. The clues lead Reb and Sammy through danger in ghost towns and mining camps, where they have to sift through dilapidated buildings, unreliable ghosts, and an abandoned mine to find the truth.

But when Reb is caught by the Varga gang, she discovers who’s behind the land grab and how far he’ll go to own a mountain. He offers her a deal: her father and railroad tickets back to Kansas in exchange for their land and her silence—a choice that will certainly leave Stanton a ghost town and crush her father’s dreams.

Can Reb escape in time to alert the town, save her father, and avoid becoming the next ghost?


1890, the Arizona Territory, Stanton

“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,” her momma said. “I’m not taking in boarders with your father away.”

“Except Corky.” Reb smiled thinking of the 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 the braid with a torn piece of muslin.

Shadows flickered in the kerosene lamp’s glow as Reb picked at the worn yellow quilt. “Still no word from Daddy?”


Reb knew it wasn’t entirely true. She’d seen Momma and Corky huddled over a letter that had come in the morning’s post. She’d pretended not to notice but snuck into her mother’s room to read it while Momma fixed dinner. It was a letter from the land claims office in Prescott. One line had formed a lump in her stomach that wouldn’t go away. “Sorry, your husband has not visited our office this month.”

He’d left six weeks ago!

“Maybe we should ride over to Prescott and check to see what’s holding him up,” Reb said.

“Reb, this boardinghouse that J.R. Martin left us is all we have. We’ll lose it if we leave. Daddy’ll be back once he’s settled the paperwork.”

“I don’t see why ol’ Mr. Martin had to leave us this boardinghouse. It’s not like we’re related.” Reb thought back to the morning when news had come in about the Martin family dying in a wagon fire two miles outside Stanton. Her family had only been boarders at the time. The  men spoke in hushed whispers, and Reb had caught mention of the Varga gang and land disputes. A whole family dying in a wagon fire was no accident and everyone knew it.

“Hush. Don’t speak ill of the dead.” Her mother stood and stretched her back. “Corky said he’d send a message to some people over in Prescott. Hopefully we’ll hear back soon.”

“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. “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 they could stop in Prescott on the way and take a look around. She stared up at the rafters wondering how she could find her father.

A whistle sounded nearby.

Reb stepped softly from bed and opened the window to see her best friend Sammy perched in the branches of the maple outside. He was nestled against the trunk a few feet away, his black hair rooster-wild in the glow of dusk.

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

She leaned out the window and rolled her eyes. “Momma said I’m not twelve until tomorrow.”

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

Tomorrow she’d be twelve. An idea flashed in her mind. “Sammy, let’s go out to the wagon ruins tomorrow.”

Sammy frowned. “What for? I don’t like it over there. Besides, your Ma won’t let you go.”

“I’m not gonna ask her! You ride all over the territory and nobody bats an eye.”

Sammy snapped off a twig and twirled it in his hand. “That’s different.”

“Naw, it ain’t. You’re only five and a half months older than me. Why’s everybody trying to keep me cooped up at the boardinghouse all the time?”

“It’s cause you’re a girl.” Sammy pointed at her and grinned, knowing his barb hit its mark.

“Do you want me to jump out there and shake you down from that tree? I can shoot better than you!” Dishes clattered in the kitchen below and they both froze as they heard the back door open. Reb stepped back from the window, listening.

She heard the slosh of dishwater splatting against the gravel below, followed by crack of the back door closing again.
She crept back to the window, lowering her voice, “Sammy, we gotta go out to the wagon ruins tomorrow.”

He sighed. “It’ll take us til lunch to get out there and back. And it’s haunted. Panners say they seen the dead walking out there.”

“You scared?” She knew Sammy wouldn’t back down from a dare.

“Scared of missing lunch,” he said.

“I’ll bring Momma’s biscuit sandwiches. Please, Sammy? For my birthday?”

Sammy kicked a boot at the air. “Oh all right. Since it’s your birthday.” They made plans to meet after breakfast and Reb watched as Sammy shimmied down the tree before she climbed into bed.

Twelve will be different, she thought, hope rising like the moon beginning to peek into her room.

 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 doing running around in pants? Ain’t right…”

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

Anger rose in Reb’s chest. Dumb old men in dirt-stained shirts with grizzled uncut beards and hair, the black dirt permanently buried in their fingernails and ears—wanting to tell her how to dress!

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 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 


  1. I'm a fan of these pages! I like the writing a lot, it's well-paced, and the dialogue is authentic and realistic, which is incredibly hard to do. I do think, however, that we can trim these pages down a bit and get to some more primary action a little sooner. All we have at the moment is a girl going to sleep and waking up on her birthday...there's the chance to sneak out and go exploring at night, but we Reb decides to go to sleep instead! Going to haunted wagon ruins is great - but going there at night, when you're supposed to be home in bed, is even better. I'd rather a) Reb go straight to the wagon ruins, taking us with her, or b) be forced to postpone it due to circumstances beyond her control. We almost already have that here, with the noise and dishwashing coming from downstairs - but what most intrigues me about this entire excerpt are those haunted wagon ruins. Honestly, much of the information we learn here could just as easily come on the walk there - which would be much more sinister than having a main character safe in bed. So bring that part right to the surface.

    - Alec

    1. Such a great idea-- will play with having her sneak out here. Thanks so much for your feedback and encouragement. I so appreciate it!

  2. Sue, you've got something great brewing here. I have very small suggestions, but I think you've got an intriguing story.

    Let's talk pitch. What is special about this mountain? We need more. Does is have a cash mine of gold? Is this where her father died and secrets still lie? Do stories of ghosts or undead simmer among the locals? Who cares...he wants a mountain, but why? What makes this one mountain special over the others? I would imagine with the remains of the wagon fire and the missing father, stories would spread like wildfire.

    Let's talk your revision now. I only have two issues. Why is Sammy at her window? He just appears, but doesn't really have a reason why he's there...which makes it creepy that a boy of any age is staring into her second story window. He seems a bit cocky so I would imagine he was there for some self-serving purpose.

    The other thing is that her finding the "grown-up" clothes and the talk about her wearing pants feels inorganic. It's too coincidental that moments after she opens the package they're talking about it.

    Honestly, I'd rather see more focus on the notebook, quill, and ink. It seems like such a specific thing is important to the story, but there's very little value given to it. I would guess with their financial situation, there would be a sense of awe, gratefulness, and splendor with something so valuable when money is an issue. If this item becomes a pivotal part of the story, I would play it up more. As far as the clothes, she could crumple them up and throw them in the corner. Without words or explanation, that simple action shows what she thinks of the girly, grown up outfit.

    These are merely suggestions. Highlight the things that are pivotal to the story. Use props to express feelings, thoughts, social economical status, religion, etc. How one treats an object can speak volumes.

    Great job! I wish you the very best of luck with this. I think it's a phenomenal story and glad I had the privilege of reading your opening lines.

    1. Wendy,
      I can't thank you enough for your direct, probing feedback. These are definitely places I can address that will make both the pitch and pages stronger. THANK YOU!

  3. Hi Sue!
    I love your pitch! It's such an intriguing mystery. I think I'd also like to see a hint of what is so special about this land and why the Vargas gang would go to such lengths to get it.

    The pages are great--I loved seeing you add that conversation with Sammy and Reb. But now I really want to see them start their adventure rather than go to bed! :) And of course, the voice is just lovely. You've got such special and spunky characters here. I'm just dying to read the rest.

    Best of luck with this book and finding a home for it. Hope to be able to add it to my selves some day soon!

  4. Hi Sue,

    Wow, you’ve put a lot of work into these pages, and it shows—they have come such a long way! Loved this revision. Everything flowed very well, and was sprinkled with vivid details that brought the scenes to life. I liked the setup with her dad’s disappearance and enjoyed the interaction with Sammy (“scared of missing lunch”—ha!).

    One thing that wasn’t entirely clear to me was why Reb suddenly wanted to go to the wagon ruins. How does she think this might help her find her father? Sammy asked her why but she never answered that question. Seems like it would have been a good opportunity to explain what she thought she might find there (and Sammy might be more motivated to go if there was a good reason).

    The pitch was great—it gave me a clear idea of the stakes and the dilemma Reb faces. “How far he’ll go to own a mountain” tripped me up a little because I didn’t know who “he” referred to at first. Maybe change the preceding sentence to “she discovers the man behind the land grab” (or something similar)? And how does the land grab tie in to what happened to Reb’s dad? Will her choice of whether or not to cooperate with the villain have any consequences for his safe return?

    I’ve enjoyed reading these pages and watching them take shape. Best of luck to you!

  5. Hi Sue,

    What a terrific revision! I like the addition of Reb reading the letter - it's a quick yet foreboding way of introducing her father and the fact they're not quite sure of his whereabouts. It also sets Corky up better as a friend of the family.

    I agree with Wendy regarding Sammy outside of Reb's window - I think this could be something that's explained easily though. I get the feeling that this is a regular occurrence - maybe you could have a little more dialogue between them about how this might have to stop since she's becoming a "grown-up" or something. I also really like Alec's suggestion of having them explore the wagon ruins at night. I think there is potential for great tension between them. Not romantic but more along the lines of their friendship dynamic changing because they're getting older. It's there a little with his teasing - but I hope there's more of it through the book!

    I love your pitch and I think you have the beginnings of a great story here. Good luck with it!!

  6. Hey Sue, like everyone else has said, what fantastic revisions! I have loved the transformation these first five pages have taken and would love to read more!
    I love the interaction between Sammy and Reb and I also loved the addition of information about the missing father, it really raises the stakes.
    Great job, and good luck to you!

  7. Hi Sue!
    I like your pitch a lot, especially "become the next ghost". It goes in a direction that feels very natural based off what I already knew from your first five pages, and sounds like a fun adventure. I wonder if there are any opportunities to bring Reb's voice into the pitch a bit. The phraseology you use in your pages is so unique and period-perfect, I'd like to see a few examples of that woven into the pitch as well.
    Your draft has only gotten tighter with each revision. I really like how the interaction between Reb and her mom gives such a full glimpse into their relationship.
    I also think you weave in hints of conflicts to come very well-wagon fire, daddy being missing, etc.
    Best of luck!