Sunday, January 21, 2018

1st 5 Pages January Workshop- Evenson Rev 2

Name: Emma Evenson
Genre: YA contemporary
Title: Tourist Attractions of the Upper Midwest


Sixteen-year-old Jonah Palmer knows that his best friend is a douchebag. Parker is the kind of guy who openly rates girls’ asses and describes everything he hates as ‘gay.’ And it’s not like Jonah— who actually is gay— is cool with it. But he gives Parker the occasional pass, as his oldest friend and the only person who didn’t treat him like a freak after he lost his leg in a childhood car accident.

When Parker’s girlfriend moves away without explanation, Jonah expects Parker to flip the hell out. But Parker is fine with it—and that’s almost scarier. The rumor mill makes it clear there’s a story there, but the last thing Jonah wants are details. All he wants is to avoid newly-single Parker’s attempts to hit on girls.

But when Parker assaults a girl, Jonah becomes complicit in one of the worst things Parker has ever done. Now Jonah has to choose between his oldest friendship and his desire to do the right thing in a situation where he has no clue what ‘the right thing’ even is.

Week 3 Revisions:

As soon as Parker tells me he likes Jenna’s hair, I know we’re on the brink of a major disaster.

“What?” he asks, feigning innocence. Feigning it pretty ineffectively, since Parker can’t act or lie to save his life. He’s always the person who gets cast as a tree or a rock in school plays, and even then he usually finds a way to fuck things up.

“Do not say something awful--” I start, but it’s already too late.

Jenna Price climbs up the stairs of the bus. She’s oblivious, talking animatedly to my sister, playing with the ends of her now fire-engine-red hair.

I knew this was coming, because the dye job happened at our house, in our bathroom. It looked like they killed a clown in there by the time they were done. Approximately six hundred thousand commemorative selfies were taken in our living room. And the entire time this was going on, I was having flashbacks to everything gross Parker has ever said to me about redheads.

That process took up a good two hours of my life.

So I already know how this is going to end. I consider taking some preventative measure, like covering his mouth with my hand, except there’s a decent chance he’d bite my palm.

He straightens up in the seat we’re sharing, and I slump down accordingly. Pretty much my number one goal in life is to avoid being the center of attention, which is difficult when your best friend has the self-control of a rabid dog.

“Hey Jenna,” he calls out, “I like your hair.”

To a normal person this might sound like a compliment, but Jenna wasn’t born yesterday. She flips him off without so much as looking in our direction.

“Who do you think makes a better redhead, Jenna or Alice?” he asks me, which practically counts as a philosophical question coming from Parker. But I am the single worst person he could be asking.

Guy-redheads, I want to say, but can’t. For fairly obvious reasons.

“They’re both okay,” I shrug.

Parker completely ignores me. “Jenna, definitely. Let me just--”

“Absolutely not,” I say, grabbing his arm.

Unfortunately he’s wearing a sweatshirt, which he sloughs off like a second skin as he shoves past me, and slides into the seat directly behind Evie and Jenna.

I hardcore don’t want to follow him. But as soon as he taps Jenna on the shoulder, my sister’s head pops up over the seat and she gives me the kind of look people give you when your dog shits on their lawn and you don’t pick it up. Which forces me to get up and move, because I prefer it when Evie doesn’t hate me.

“So did you dye all your hair?” he asks loudly. “Everywhere?”

I groan. I was pretty sure that’s where this was going, but you know. A person can hope.

A bunch of the guys sitting behind us laugh. Our bus driver even laughs. It’s completely disgusting on a million different levels and it makes me wish I were a different type of person. A person who would get up and punch Parker and those guys in their faces.

Or at the very least, like, pinch them.

But me? I feel the way I used to feel during our Department of Natural Resources assemblies about preventing forest fires. Some nature-police-type-guy would be up there showing us videos of a bunch of burning forests and explaining how to use sand or willpower or whatever to stop the fire.

And I’d be sitting there thinking, I would definitely just give up if I was confronted with a forest fire.

But it’s not like that’s even a real option, because everyone would be like, ‘screw that guy who let the whole forest burn down.’

In this case, I suspect my sister will have some pretty choice words for me if I don’t do the right thing. My sister is super-Christian, so she’s up on the Clydesdale of all of high horses when it comes to morality.

“Stop being--” I start, but Jenna interrupts.

“Leave. Me. Alone.”

“I’m just curious,” he says. “It seems like that would be complicated—”

I lean forward so my face is pressed against the back of the seat in front of us, which is pockmarked with those weird little shapes that form when you press a lit lighter against the seat. The grimy plastic threats to suffocate me, and I kind of wish it would.

Jenna stands up. “Actually,” she says, grabbing her backpack, “I don’t have to listen to this crap.” She storms to the front of the bus and the bus driver actually pulls over and lets her off, despite the fact that we drop all the farm kids off first and we’re basically in the middle of nowhere.

“Jesus. Overreact much?” Parker says.

I roll my eyes so hard they practically fall out of my head.

“If only Rachel were here to witness this,” Evie says sarcastically, narrowing her eyes at Parker before turning to glare at me in a way that makes me want to crawl under the seat.

It’s not like I didn’t try to stop him.


It actually is kind of a miracle that Parker’s girlfriend is on another bus route, because if she heard a quarter of the things he says they probably would have broken up years ago. At the very least, he usually knows better than to mess with Rachel’s friends.

Rachel is the one person who has the power to make Parker act like a semi-normal person, which makes her tantamount to a wizard in my mind.

So when I say, “You might want to, like, apologize. Because Jenna’s hardcore going to tell Rachel what you said,” Parker looks like he’s actually considering it.

“Okay,” he says finally.

It makes me want to write Rachel a card or something, which my mom is real big on. Our next-door-neighbor gave me a bag of laundry detergent and some deodorant last year for Christmas, and my mother made me write a thank you card for that, even though Mrs. Friedman was clearly mocking my personal hygiene.

Dear Rachel, thank you for having sex with my best friend and for scaring him into occasionally trying to be a better person.

I seriously cannot imagine what Parker would be like if he were single.

It would be the actual end of the world.

“So Jonah.” Evie’s voice floats over the top of the seat, her tone frigid. “Ever considered finding better friends?”

This sounds like an insult, but it’s the kind of thing you get used to hearing when everyone thinks your best friend is a total douchebag.

But it’s not nearly as simple as she makes it sound.


  1. Emma,

    Your new opening pages are great! They make it much clearer what the conflict is going to be. We see Parker painted as an annoying (dangerous) jerk and we see Jonah’s lack of strong personality without you having to tell us about it. And still tons of voice, which you excel at!

    Your pitch goes perfectly with your opening pages. It feels really strong but I think the last paragraph falls flat. I think the problem is that the conflict is there but it’s still too vague. How is Jonah complicit? What is the choice he needs to make? Helping a girl vs ratting out his friend?

    Good luck!

  2. Pitch:

    Oh wow! This story isn’t what I thought it was going to be at all. It sounds great! There’s so much conflict here I’d definitely want to read it. I don’t think I can offer much constructive feedback as it presents the story well. If there was something I’d worry about when you go on submission, it is that Parker seems to dominate the story in the pitch. He’s mentioned in the first sentence. Maybe if Jonah’s goals, obstacles, etc, was here it would make it clear that this story is definitely about Jonah. That’s the only feedback I can think of. I’d like to hear more about Jonah rather than Parker. We’re told there’s rumors going on about Parker but Jonah doesn’t want to hear it. Can we get a hint here, instead, of what’s going on in Joanh’s world? Perhaps move some of the focus onto Jonah?


    Love the new start. You write humor so effortlessly and the narrative just draws the reader in easily. This is definitely the best version so far. And Parker’s here! Yay! And they’re talking and we’re getting to know them without being told anything as they’re showing. Great.

    I had a couple of editing notes:

    Slightly confused by this sentence: ‘Unfortunately he’s wearing a sweatshirt, which he sloughs off like a second skin as he shoves past me’. A sweatshirt is what you pull over your head, there’s no zip, there’s no buttons, it’s not open at the front….it’s basically a hoodie without a hood….I don’t understand how Jonah’s pulls it over his head and off of him so quickly?

    Is this a saying: ‘I hardcore don’t want to follow him’? If it is then ignore me but it sounded a little odd when I read it. Also, it would read a little smoother if instead of, ‘Our bus driver even laughs’, to change it to, ‘Even our bus driver laughs’. Also, I’m not really sure about this: ‘But it’s not like that’s even a real option, because everyone would be like, ‘screw that guy who let the whole forest burn down.’ I understand that he doesn’t want to stop Parker, the same way he doesn’t want to stop a fire (not entirely sure this makes the character all that likeable to the average person who probably wouldn’t want a forest to burn down!!) and I get that you’re trying to say everyone will be annoyed at him, but it’s a very long image and it took me a couple of reads to make sure I understood it. Is there a simpler image you could use?

    Overall though, it’s great that we start with heaps of dialogue and the characters interacting. It’s still funny and Jonah’s is still coming across really strongly. You’ve done a great job with revisions and I would love to see where this story is going! I’m more than happy to set up our own little FB group to keep our workshops going, if you’re interested? Sophia and I are already up for it. If not, it’s been great reading your work and good luck with submissions!

  3. Hi Emma!

    Please note (I'm saying this to everyone): I'm reading these pages cold, meaning I'm not reading the earlier versions or comments from others before commenting myself. This may mean that some of my comments repeat what other have said or contradict them - and that's OK! Publishing, in many ways, is a subjective process. It's up to you as the author to take in (sometimes contradictory) information, consider it, and then decide what makes the most sense to you and your book.

    These are such strong opening pages that I'm not sure I have much constructive thoughts. The first line is great and I love that we clearly and seamlessly fall into this world and story. The seamlessness means all the details and character development is happening really naturally, which is the hardest thing to achieve!

    My only true notes: I'd love for the pages to tell me that the narrator is a guy (could be as simple as saying his name earlier) and how old these people are sooner. Those are the "hang my reader hat on" details that are currently missing. Otherwise you've done a great job making these pages that will encourage readers to keep reading. Great job, and good luck!

  4. WOW, I would never have thought this was the direction you were going based on the previous versions. Great work rewriting and starting at a better place. I think you're really rolling now. Good luck with this!

  5. Hi Emma,
    The query definitely described a different story than the one I had in my mind, based on earlier pages. The inner monologue of your MC is more consistent now with his actions on the pages, and in the query, too. I would read this book--and I'm not into YA contemporary, so--YAY!

  6. Hi Emma,

    I really liked this! I think the new opening does a great job matching with your pitch. Honestly, I liked all of your versions, but I think this works best for setting up your story.


    I thought there was a jump between “that’s almost scarier” and the sentence about the rumor mill. Why is it scarier that Parker acts like everything is fine? How does that relate to the rumor mill?

    The last sentence sounds weird to me. I’m not sure why, but something about choosing between friend or desire to do something seems odd.


    I only had a couple small notes.

    I got a little hung up on how Parker so easily got out of the sweatshirt. I like the idea, but don’t quite see how it would work easily since he has to pull it over his head.

    I found it odd that the bus driver would let Jenna off at some random spot.

    All of your pages were so funny and enjoyable. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Hi Emma,

    Thanks for sharing your revision and pitch with us!

    The pitch has a lot going on, which is good in that it all builds and leads to a really compelling conflict. I would be interested in checking out these pages based on this pitch.

    The pages definitely support this query. You do such a sound job of painting Parker as a jerk that I'm really wondering why Jonah is his friend at all! I'm especially wondering why Jonah can't comment on being gay around his best friend...and how Jonah's identity relates to the central storyline. Hopefully, the pages immediately following these address Jonah's conflict about being Parker's friend--we need a really, REALLY compelling reason to buy into Jonah's devotion to such a rotten friend.

    Your dialogue and inner monologue are both great. If anything, slow down and layer in some sensory details--a smell or two, some more sounds, some fresh takes on the external action (such as how exactly Parker peels that sweatshirt off).

    Great work this month and best of luck to you!

    My best,
    First Five Mentor