Sunday, January 21, 2018

1st 5 Pages January Workshop- Wenger Rev 2

Name: Haleigh Wenger
Genre: YA contemporary romance
Title: Words in the Sand


Seventeen-year-old Claire has spent every one of her summer vacations at her family’s beach house in Florida sketching and dreaming of art school with her biggest fan--her Opa. This summer Claire’s plan is to discover her niche as an artist with his help. But when her Opa dies right before summer break, her plans are derailed, and all he leaves her is an application to enter a sand sculpting contest.

Claire has never even made a decent sandcastle, but she meets outdoor artist Foster at the beach and they join forces to win the contest. They spend the humid days at the beach surfing, sculpting, and devouring ice cream until a secret threatens to close in on their perfect summer. Foster is  homeless and hiding out from the older brother who’s supposed to be his legal guardian.

When Claire’s parents find out, they ban her from dating him. Then Foster’s brother finds him and tries to drag him back home. Their relationship and their shot at the sculpting contest are both on the line unless Claire can protect Foster from his toxic brother and convince her parents that Foster is more than his status quo.


“I can’t believe Opa won’t be home with us,” I say. The funeral’s been over for almost an hour, but I still can’t stop my hands from shaking when I think about it.

No one says anything, but Mom and Dad both pull me into a sandwich style hug as we reach the front steps of the beach house. Mom runs her French manicured nails down my back, and I shiver and pull closer. My sister, Livvy, pockets her phone for a millisecond and reaches over to squeeze my hand.

“It sucks,” she says. You know it’s bad if Livvy is offering support.

Dad turns to Mom, Livvy, and me before turning the key in the lock and pushing the coral-colored door open. He extends his arms out in front like we’ve won a prize. We’re all mourning Opa still, but family traditions are Dad’s hill to die on, and swinging open the beach house door at the beginning of every summer is his keystone. Thank goodness I had enough foresight to insist on driving my own car to Florida. Me and Livvy crammed together for fifteen hours of silent passive aggression from her, and nerves about the funeral from me. But the long drive was worth it because I’ll have my freedom the next three months whenever I need space.

Newsflash: I already need space.

“Do you think he left us anything?” My voice is higher than I want it to be. Instead of an offhand question, I sound a little crazed. I feel it too--sweaty, wide-eyed, and wild. It’s not a good look for me.

Mom and Dad glance at each other before looking back at me. “Sorry Claire,” Dad says. “He didn’t leave us anything except for the beach house. But all of his belongings are still here until the rest of the family goes through them later today.”

I nod like I understand. But I don’t, not really. Opa and I have always been close, so it’s hard to believe he would leave me with nothing just when he knew I need him the most. I know he didn’t die on purpose, but jeez.

“Oh. Right.”

Livvy exhales so loudly I almost mistake it for a gust of wind. “Seriously, this is getting old. I don’t have time to stand here bonding with you guys. I’ve got a summer vacation to get to.”

Dad pockets his crinkly smile to raise his eyebrows at her. “This is the beginning of our family summer, Liv. Let’s enjoy the time together.”

Livvy plants one hand on her hip and sucks in her cheeks while Dad ceremoniously fusses over invisible smudges on the seashell-plated light switches. She glances at me to gauge my annoyance level, but I'm too busy taking it all in to help make fun of Dad. The first day back to the beach house is like the first day back to breathing after a long nine months away in land-locked Kentucky.

Livvy pushes past the rest of us standing in the doorway and sneaks down the hall. Into the last bedroom on the right, the one she claimed five summers ago once we were old enough to realize it was the biggest and most private. I swear I’m still missing hair in the spot she pulled a chunk out of that June, too. Apparently, it was a rough year.

“I’m going to look around,” I say.

My parents both reach over to squeeze my arm before they drag their suitcases to the master bedroom. The first room past the entry and the most beach themed, with its aqua paint and starfish applique pressed just above the door knob. As soon as they close the door behind them, Mom’s not-so-subtle whispering starts.

“What are we going to do about this, Aaron? We can’t have Livvy sneaking around with boys all summer like she did last year.”

Dad mumbles something I can’t make out.

“Claire will be fine. She just misses my dad. And he was supposed to take her on their big art tour this year…”

More faint responses from Dad, then a door closes and the sound of water from the shower whirs through the pipes in the ceiling above me.

I thought Opa dying would make Mom sad, quieter maybe, but she’s business as usual. I stop in front of the floor-length mirror opposite the entryway, avoiding my reflection as I try to tune my parents out. I reach up to let my fingertips graze the row of pictures taped to its sides. My favorite is a small and blurry picture of me at the beach with Opa last summer in front of an impossibly perfect pink and orange sunset. Not pictured is the bonfire, Mom’s turkey dogs we had been conspiring to bury, and the marshmallows we planned to gorge on instead. I am hovering over Opa’s shoulders, stretching my arms around his neck from behind, while he sits in a collapsible beach chair. It was taken right after his first heart attack, when even doing little things like standing were too much for him.

“Find art wherever you go. The world is brimming with inspiration,” he told me, right at the end, the same week we were packing to head home. I didn’t guess it would be the last beach trip we’d share.

I use my fingernail to loosen the tape on the picture and slip it into the back pocket of my shorts. I have a feeling I'm going to need a reminder of Opa close to me this summer.

I sense her behind me even though I missed the sound of her bedroom door closing. “I can’t do this summer without him, Mom. I seriously can’t.” My voice cracks as I turn to face her.

I gesture limply to the bright room. Opa’s beach house, where my parents brought me the summer after I was born. I want so badly to walk into the next room and find him hunkered down in his leather recliner, absentmindedly picking at the loose folds on the armrest with his eyes trained on the pages of some gigantic mystery novel. The overpowering smell of peppermint on his breath. I thought for sure he’d leave some of his books for me, since I love them almost as much as he did.

Mom’s mouth is already pulling down, her shoulders slumped. “Honey—”

I shake my head to ward off whatever she’s going to say. Nothing makes this better. “This was supposed to be The Summer of Art. I’m supposed to be working on my early admission packet, but he’s not even here to help me. And our trip...”

Her bottom lip wavers. “We all miss him. And we’ll figure it out. I promise. You have good grades and you’re talented--your application isn’t in jeopardy just because you haven’t been to every single art museum in central Florida.”

That was the plan. Opa and I had been mapping our trip to as many semi-local art museums as we could find since last summer. He promised to use his connections to help me apply to colleges for the arts during early admission at the end of summer. Now the trip is off. Besides majorly missing him, I needed Opa to help me find my place as a budding artist, something I can’t ask my parents for since they don’t know the difference between Jackson Pollock and Banksy.

A rapping on the door signals the arrival of the extended family.


  1. Hi Haleigh!

    Please note (and 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.

    This concept is great and very touching, and I love that we start at the house after the funeral. Smart spot to start and giving us the space to get to know Claire, which is the most important part of these first pages.

    A few specific notes:
    -The point about having her own car seems a bit off in the middle of us learning about her grief about Opa. Does she need space from her family right at this moment (she just accepted hugs from them!) - or does that come later? (My sense is it comes later!)
    -I like the set up and nice description coming naturally - good job! I'd love a better sense of Claire (age! more than just her grief!) and a bit better sense of the family (is sister older or younger? Does Claire get along with her parents or not?) to have a better sense of the stakes to keep reading
    -Some moments of clunkiness, but also some moments of loveliness, so I would look at doing less in these pages and let them grow more slowly and naturally - get to the mirror and whispered conversation faster? Move some of the stuff about sister and car and if he left them anything later? I think maybe just order of details is a bit off. What she has lost and how that seems like it's going to impact the immediate and distant future has to be the focus here.

    Good job and good luck!

  2. Nice work on revisions! I'm pleasantly surprised by the pitch - not where I imagined this was going, but I like it. Lots of complicated dynamics to play with. Good luck with this!

  3. Hi Haleigh,

    I love your revisions, and I don't think I have anything to add. I've enjoyed every version of this, and I definitely think this one is the strongest.

    Re: your query, I think you could cut some of the beach details to focus in more on the stakes at the end. What makes Foster's brother toxic? What happened that made Foster view homelessness as better than life with his brother? These seem like important details in making the stakes clear.

    Since I'm assuming that something fairly serious (e.g., abuse) must have happened with Foster's brother, the bit about her parents forbidding her from dating him seems quite a bit less important-- I wonder if you might want to consider cutting it. (It also seems kind of old-fashioned-- it makes me curious about how they enforce it.) If the stakes with Foster's brother aren't as high as I'm imagining them to be, then I think clarifying that so these two problems seem more comparable in gravity would be smart.

    I've really enjoyed reading this, wishing you all the best!

  4. Pitch:

    It’s great to finally read a bit more about this story and see where it’s going. I don’t think I have anything to add 


    You’ve done a great job with your opening pages. Again, I like the extra bits about her liking art and that her goal is to apply to art school. Her family are coming across well and it’s a smooth, easy read. As I’ve mentioned in other comments, let us know if you want to keep going with critiques, and, if not, thanks for letting us read your work and good luck!

    1. Hey, I’d love to keep going with critiques! I was never able to join the Facebook group for some reason, but my email is haleighwenger at gmail . com. Thanks!

  5. Haleigh,
    I think the revisions you made are all very good. The focus on her aspirations to be an artist, and how her Opa encouraged it establishes a connection between then that makes her loss poignant.

    For the query, I would tweak the last sentence. It is too long, and you've got two stakes and two obstacles. I think a punchier line would be better here. Good luck.

  6. Hi Haleigh,

    I didn’t expect a sand castle competition at all. That’s a fun idea! But then it has a dark twist, which I definitely wasn't expecting. Sounds really interesting.


    In the second paragraph you give details about her summer and days with Foster. I was curious if the competition and her relationship with him ended up helping her figure out her artistic goals.

    In the final paragraph when you say “Their relationship” I thought you were talking about Foster and his brother since they were the last two mentioned.


    You clarified some of the family stuff I was confused about and I think it’s made for a smoother read.

    You give some great details about her grandfather, but I’d like to see more about his relationship with art. Why is he the person to help Claire? Then you mention connections that will help her with applying to schools and that made me even more curious. Did he teach art? Is he an artist or collector?

    I loved reading about the family and their different relationships. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Hey Haleigh,

    Very nice job! I really like the pitch. The issue of homelessness can help elevate a story like this into more than just another romance. Sounds like a great idea!

    As for your pages, I think they've come a long way! You've done a great job of responding to all the feedback you received and incorporating it. The thing I'd focus on now is the emotional choppiness that occurs a few paragraphs in. For example, if Claire is so disturbed by her Opa's death, would she really think that the first day at the beach house is like the "first day of breathing"? Or would that feeling be tempered by the loss she's experiencing. Similarly, when Dad says "let's just enjoy our time together," I think you might be well-served by having a feeling of dread or sadness belie his words. I just feel like Claire is too quick to focus on other things when she's walking into her Opa's house for the first time after his death. Something to think about.

    Thanks so much for participating in the workshop! And best of luck with your writing!