Sunday, April 22, 2018

1st 5 Pages April Workshop- Larson Rev 2

Name: Kim A. Larson
Genre: YA Contemporary
Title: Stop Mr. Ryden

Prophetically gifted Anna Sandvik has a dream about a woman she’s never met. When she discovers this woman is her flamboyant, atheist, ninth-grade lit teacher, she relays the dream’s message: Stop Mr. Ryden. The teacher, Ms. Villard, is dating Mr. Ryden and becomes Anna’s nemesis. Determined to prove that God gave her the warning dream, Anna and her best friend set out to discover why Mr. Ryden needs to be stopped and how they’ll do it. 

When a football player has a heart attack on the field, Anna knows her suspicion about the supplement Mr. Ryden manufactures is correct. As she grows closer to proving that a life-and-death experiment is being forced upon the football team, she receives threatening letters to stop investigating or someone she loves will get hurt. 

When Anna’s three-year-old cousin becomes deathly ill, she believes it’s her fault. And it is. She left the supplement out after researching it online, and the child consumed it in full. Anna confronts Mr. Ryden, threatening to expose him if he doesn’t tell her the secret ingredient. Unsuccessful, she turns to her teacher. She must convince Ms. Villard to help her to save her cousin’s life. 

Most kids my age dream about what they’ll do after they graduate. I dream about stuff that literally happens. 

I’m at Walmart when the sound from a screechy cart draws my attention to the woman pushing it. She’s wearing short shorts and a tank top that covers way too little of her fortyish figure. She looks familiar. As I consider where I might have seen her before, a sliver of last night’s dream provides the answer. 

My best friend, Elle, waves her hands in front of my face. “Earth to Anna.” 

I stare at the woman through a maze of back-to-school shoppers. In my dream, she wore a red blouse, white scarf, and navy pants. Like an American flag. She stood next to an open door, against a white backdrop with words written in black letters. Words I can’t remember. 

“Anna . . . Anna . . .” 

While pondering my dream, I’m thrust into a vision of this woman. It’s like I’m dreaming but still awake. And this scene is far different than my dream—she’s wearing today’s skimpy clothes. When the vision ends, I nudge Elle and nod toward the woman. “She’s going to buy the yellow highlighters.” 

The woman rummages through a bin of markers, note cards, and pens before tossing yellow highlighters into her cart. 

“Wow! You’re good.” 

“Not really. I saw this before—” 

“Haven’t we all.” She flings her long hair over one shoulder. “Every August—getting new school junk. You think we get our ninth-grade planners here or at school?” 

“Seriously, El, I had another vision.” 

“You did?” She bounces into my personal space. “Come on. Spill, already.” 

I take a step back. “There’s not much to tell. I just saw her doing what she did, only a few seconds beforehand.” A flash of dream resurfaces, and I brace myself for Elle’s reaction. “She was in my dream last night, too.” 

Elle grabs onto my shoulders and bounces. “For real? That same woman?” 

I nod and pull away. “She stood by an open door with something written behind her. I wish I could remember what.” 

“Yeah, how cool would that be? But what’s up with dreaming and having a vision of . . . her?” Elle gives this woman the once-over. “You think God is trying to tell you something? Like when your dad crashed his car?” 

“Maybe.” I scowl at the mention of him. 

“I still get goose bumps.” Elle shivers. “If you hadn’t had that dream and prayed, your dad might not be alive.” 

“Lucky me.” I cross my arms. He’s all but dead to me anyhow, dropping out of my life after Mom divorced him. “Lane seven’s shortest.” I rush to get in line and out of this conversation. 

After Walmart, we walk to Elle’s. She jabbers nonstop, which is normal—and sometimes annoying—but today it’s a relief. That woman’s image is stuck in my head. It’s not like I want to think about her, but if my dreams and visions are from God, aren’t I supposed to try to figure them out? Not that I want to. It’s a must—as in obey God. People’s lives may be at stake. 

When I dreamed about Dad, I awoke in the night knowing I had to pray he’d live. Maybe I should have prayed the accident wouldn’t happen, but that’s not what came to me. Now, nothing comes to mind about this woman. I can’t even remember the whole dream. Evidently, God wants me to know or even do something. But what? If only he’d make things clearer. 

Elle races up the stairs to her room after we get to her house. “Let’s pick out what we’ll wear the first day of school.” 

“It’s a week away.” I mutter, knowing I’ll wear something of hers she no longer wants. 

She holds up two tops against her white shirt. “The blue or red one?” 

The trio of colors brings me back to my dream. I close my eyes. She was dressed like an American flag . . . Then I recall everything. “I know what’s on the whiteboard!” 

“What whiteboard?” 

“The one in my dream of that woman. It had Mr. Ryden written on it, inside the shape of a stop sign.” 

“What’s that mean? Who’s Mr. Ryden?” 

The image of Elle’s neighbor pops into my head. “Doesn’t he live down the street? The football coach at the high school. He’s a Mr. Ryden, right?” 

“Yeah, Ride’em Ryden. What about him? And what about that woman?” 

“Maybe they’re married.” 

“Gross. Who’d marry him?” Her face puckers as if sucking on a Warheads candy. “He’s like a possessed Rottweiler.” She growls, showing teeth. “I feel sorry for that woman just being in the same dream as him.” 

I shouldn’t correct Elle, but I can’t help myself. “You know we’re not supposed to talk about people that way, El.” 

“Then how are we supposed to talk about such creeps?” 

“We’re not. Sometimes it’s hard being a Christian.” 

“Well, I know Ride’em isn’t married.” She sits beside me on her bed. “I never saw that woman before yesterday.” 

“Maybe he’s going to ask her to—” 

“Then yell STOP!” 

“Hey, maybe that’s it. Maybe I’m supposed to tell her ‘Stop Mr. Ryden,’ and she’ll know what it means. I can only tell what I see.” This feels right. 

“You really think you’d tell her? Or even see her again?” 

“If I’m supposed to tell her, I’ll see her.” Obeying God is mandatory in my book—and also in his. 

“You’d go up to a complete stranger and say, ‘Stop Mr. Ryden’?” She shakes her head. “I couldn’t. Would you tell her about the dream?” 

“I guess, otherwise it wouldn’t make sense.” 

“Like any of this makes sense?” 

“God stuff doesn’t always make sense, but we have to obey him. Who knows, God may be depending on us to warn her about him.” 

Elle and I spend the last week of summer break spying on Mr. Ryden’s house. We ride our bikes up and down their street every day, hoping to catch a glimpse of this woman. But every day Mr. Ryden comes home late afternoon in his army-green Hummer—alone. 

Friday morning, I ride past Mr. Ryden’s on my way to Elle’s. A beige car sits in his driveway. I use my key to enter Elle’s. “Tattarrattat,” I say, which means a knock at the door. It’s one of my favorite words because it’s a palindrome, like Elle’s and my name. “Elle, come see!” 

Elle tears down the stairs with Aunt Cindy chasing behind. 

“Anna,” Aunt Cindy scolds, “I’ve asked you before not to holler when you come in.” She takes a deep breath. “The twins are still sleeping.” 

“Sorry. I’ll try not to do it again.” I fidget, waiting for her to leave the room. When she does, I run to the front window. 

“That could be her,” Elle says. “What should we do?” 

“Let’s wait there on the sidewalk until someone comes out.” 

“If it’s her, she might be in danger.” Elle pulls a box of Thin Mints from the cupboard and heads for the door. “Let’s pretend we’re selling Girl Scout cookies.” 

“What if he wants a different kind?” 

“We’ll just take his order, silly, not his money.” She grabs a pen and paper. “When he opens the door, we can peak inside. See if she’s in there.”


  1. Super fun to read your pitch. It sounds really exciting! But also Sad about the 3 yr old!!!!

    first line thought: Most kids my age dream about what they’ll do after they graduate. I dream about stuff that literally happens. OR Most kids my age dream about what they'll never do. I dream about stuff that literally happens.

    fortyish figure- what does this mean? I've seen smoking hot 40 year olds and then some that are not...

    Is Elle her cousin as well as friend? For some reason I thought that last time.

    “If it’s her, she might be in danger.” Do the girls worry at all that they might be in danger?

    This is getting better and I love the relationship between the girls. I think you're setting that up really nicely.

    Best of luck with with!

    1. Thanks, Mary. I had a comment from someone else to weave in the part about being cousins later. About the fortyish figure: it's meant to help readers picture her age. Good points - thanks!

  2. Hi Kim! This is so much tighter! Well done! I really like the opening line and I think it's got a lot more punch. I would caution you against using too much non-action in the story (" as I pondered" and "I dreamed"). You want to use action to move the story forward so if you tighten these places I think your work will be more solid. I think you have a really nice foundation for a strong female friendship, which is always one of my favorite things in YA. I hope they continue to support one another all the way through the book!! :D I would like for you to think about adding in reactions to the visions. Is she frightened of the visions/dreams or the people in them? I made this comment early on but i still don't get a clear, visceral sense of how the dreams are impacting her everyday existence as a teen. I'd like to see that. Thank you again for sharing your work. I do wish you the best of luck with this project and all future projects!

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    3. Thanks for your feedback, Shannon.
      I will try to show her reaction again. I tried last revision but did it wrong. I'm not quite getting it yet, but I will attempt it again.

  3. Pages:

    The conversation about the woman and the dream reads more smoothly to me now. Nice.

    I'm not seeing the connection between dreaming about post-graduation and dreams that come true, perhaps because you're using two different meanings of "dream" here.

    I agree with the comment about adding more of Anna's reactions to her visions. I like that Anna knows she should be obedient to these visions, but are they or the responsibility they represent ever a burden she wants to get away from? I think it would be great if you could add some internal conflict for her here. For example, do the visions ever get in the way of something Anna wants? Does she ever feel that things would be easier if she were a normal teenager?

    Elle goes very quickly from not knowing who Mr. Ryden is to knowing his nickname, his marital status, and certain he's a creep. If he's her neighbor, maybe she's the one who brings up he's the football coach?

    Before Elle says "That could be her," I think you need a brief mention that they're back looking at the car in Mr. Ryden's driveway. It took me a moment to realize what Elle was talking about.


    "...determined to prove God gave her the warning dream" – Would figuring out what the message means be of greater importance than proving where the message came from?

    Since you don't mention Ms. Villard again, I don't think you need the sentence about her being Anna's nemesis. For your pitch, it might be simpler to focus on Mr. Ryden as your primary antagonist. You could go straight from "Stop Mr. Ryden" into "Anna and her best friend..."

    Between the first and second paragraphs I feel like we've skipped the step where Anna discovers the supplements. Does Anna know any of the students being hurt by these? If so, a quick mention might help heighten the stakes.

    You tell us Anna is threatened, but then you jump to her cousin eating one of the pills, which is an accident (i.e. not a result of the threat), which felt like a disconnect to me. Can you give us a little more about the threat and what choice Anna will have to make as a result of it? This seems to be key to what's at stake, so I think you can expand on this a little more.

  4. Thanks, Jim.
    Good suggestions and questions I will ponder.

  5. So I got a bit of whiplash from your pitch (first there was a blurb about a woman, then Ryden's supplements, and then a sick cousin) and made me ask too many questions about why would Anna trust a random woman with her message, why is Ryden her nemesis, how are they connected to her ill cousin?

    Love this opening though! so much smoother! The dialogue with Elle is my favorite part. You lose me a little when they start talking about Mr. Ryden because at this point I don't really care so much about him, I care about Elle and Anna.

    I also still want to see/feel how Anna feels about her visions and what influenced her to either react or not to and the consequences of disobeying her visions. You really have something here!

    Thank you so much for letting me read these pages over the last few weeks!

  6. Thanks, Hannah.
    I will work on my pitch more.

  7. Pitch:
    The others have done a great job on highlighting some things that could be improved, so I’ll just add this one: If you can clear up who the main bad guy is and what Anna’s biggest struggle is, I think that will help clarify the pitch a lot. I’m pretty sure Mr. Ryden is the main bad guy, but I’m not sure. And I’m a little confused about if Anna’s main goal is proving God spoke to her, or stopping the supplement from hurting people. It looks like you’ve got the plot points right, they just need to clarified in the pitch.

    The beginning is SO much clearer! You left in the great imagery, but it feels so much more grounded and clear. I thought, too, you did a better job showing the difference between the dreams and visions.
    I got a little confused on the spying on Mr. Ryden part – I guess I didn’t follow that the beige car would be the same lady from Walmart. Also, this is super random: but Girls Scout cookies are only for sale once a year right? Like in February? So if they already had thin mints at their house wouldn’t it be past selling time? Maybe that comes up later, just food for thought, perhaps some thin mints for thought ☺
    You’re doing an amazing job! It’s been hard to turn around revisions in a short time while trying to incorporate everyone’s feedback, but I think you’re doing really well! Don't give up!

    1. Thanks for your comments and encouragement, Karie.

  8. Hi Kim,

    This sounds like a really exciting story!

    Admittedly, I struggled to get a really clear sense of the plot from the pitch. The introduction of the supplement and its danger feels a bit sudden and doesn't quite land with the impact you intended, and doesn't mention a secret ingredient until the last paragraph. And if her cousin becomes ill because of Anna, is that somehow tied to the threats she received? I think the balance might be slightly off between the backstory set up in the early paragraphs of the pitch, and not enough clarity in what comes next in the story.

    As for the pages, I think you set up two dynamic, really fun characters in Anna and Elle, and their relationship comes through clearly. But a lot of the information is coming through their dialogue, and I would have loved to have explored Anna's inner monologue a bit more to balance it out. I would have loved to have gotten a clearer sense of her emotions and reactions in her head, or her observations of the world around her, to contrast with the dialogue.

    Overall, this sounds like a really fun concept, and you're off to a great start!

    All best,