Sunday, April 8, 2018

1st 5 Pages April Workshop- Larson

Kim Larson
YA Contemporary
Stop Mr. Ryden

The spiral-ringed notebook slips from my fingers and drops to the floor. That woman! She—she was in my dream last night. But who is she? And why is she at Walmart?

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

I stare at the woman from my dream through a maze of back-to-school shoppers. Is it really her? Tight shirt. Short shorts. But yeah, it’s her. In my dream she wore a shiny 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 . . .”

I ignore Elle and watch this woman sort through a bin of marked-down school supplies. This didn’t happen in my dream—but I know what happens next. I nudge Elle and nod toward the stranger. “She’s going to buy the pack of yellow highlighters.”

The woman tosses markers, note cards, and pens aside before throwing yellow highlighters into her cart.

“Wow. You’re good.”

“No, not really. I’ve just been here before.”

“Yeah, haven’t we all.” She tosses her long hair over one shoulder. “Every August—getting new school junk. You think we get our planners here or at school?”

“Seriously, El, I just had another déjà vu.”

“You did?” She bounces into my personal space. “But weren’t you going to stop calling them that?”

“Yeah, but I just can’t say it.” I fidget, too uncertain of my gift and how to use it.

“Practice with me.” She cradles my face in her hands, pulling my cheeks up and down, moving my jaw with each syllable. “Say, ‘El-le, I had a-noth-ther vi-sion.’” She drops her hands and rests them on my shoulders.

Uncomfortable, I turn my face from her warm spearmint breath and from what feels like looking into a mirror. Our hazel-green eyes and straight blonde hair are identical, but then half the girls I know wear their hair this same way. Yet, it’s still freaky that our dark-haired dads, though brothers, had daughters who look so much alike.

“Tell me more!” Elle bounces, uses my shoulders as a springboard. “Did more happen? Besides the highlighters?”

“No, that’s it.” A flash of dream resurfaces. “Don’t freak now, but she was in my dream last night, too.” As if visions aren’t enough. Now I have strangers showing up in real life from my dreams. What am I supposed to do with that?

“Really? Buying highlighters?”

“No.” I take a deep breath. Sometimes it’s hard for even me to follow what’s happening. “That was just now in the déjà vu—I mean vision. Last night in my dream she stood by an open door with something written behind her. I wish I could remember what.”

“Yeah, me too. Like how sweet would that be? But what’s up with dreaming and having a vision of . . . her?” Elle glances over her shoulder and looks this woman up and down. “You think God is trying to tell you something? Like when your dad crashed his car?”

“Maybe.” I scowl.

The only dream I’ve ever had that actually came true was two years ago on the night my mom kicked my dad out of our house. He’d come home drunk again, and Mom had his suitcase packed and waiting outside the front door. She’d done this before, but this time was different. Earlier         that day she’d had the locks changed and made me promise not to let him in.

“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 we pay for our school supplies, 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 and figure them out? Not that I want to. It’s a should. As in obey God.

I just want my old life back. Before Dad left. Before we moved. Before changing schools. Who needs dreams and visions on top of all this? Especially when I’m clueless about them.

Walking into Elle’s, her mom greets us with a plate of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. At the first inhale of the sweet, buttery aroma, my mouth waters, and I know I’m at the closest place to heaven—where nothing ever changes.

“Want a warm one with some milk?”

“Mmm, thanks, Auntie Cindy.” The chocolate chips melt and swirl with the lingering grease on my fingers as I gobble the cookie in three bites.

“Do you girls have everything you need for your new school?” Aunt Cindy pours our glasses of milk. The frothy bubbles surface, then pop.

“Yeah, Mom.” Elle licks chocolate from her fingertips.

“You know it’s not too late to go back to Park Christian. Uncle Dave and I will gladly pay your tuition, Anna.”

“Thanks, but I don’t want charity.” That’s been my excuse ever since Elle talked me into switching schools. Then she begged her parents into letting her switch. I take another cookie, break it in two, and dip half into my glass of milk. “This change is finally one I’m looking forward to.” Maybe someday I’ll convince myself.

“We’re supposed to be lights in the world, not hide under a basket.” Elle repeats this Bible verse often, reminding her mom of her reason for changing schools.

Though it’s true, being a light seems as difficult as getting this soggy cookie into my mouth. A crumbly-milk mixture dribbles down my chin.

“See, memorizing a verse every week has already paid off.” Aunt Cindy hands us each a napkin. “And that’s exactly why I’d like you both to stay at Park Christian.”

“We promised to keep memorizing, already.” Elle rolls her eyes. “Besides, you let Brandon change schools at my age.” The switch is a done deal, so I don’t get why they keep going at it.

“That’s because of sports.” Aunt Cindy pulls the last sheet of cookies out of the oven. “He had your father’s blessing, not mine. The twins were babies. I was too tired to argue.” She shakes her head. “Sports! You’d think the world revolves around them.”

Elle scrunches up her face behind her mom’s back. I don’t have to be prophetic to know what Aunt Cindy will say next—how sports have become this world’s god. Elle rushes to her mom and throws her arms around her. “I love you, Mom.” She looks over her mom’s shoulder and winks at me. “Thanks again for letting me switch and convincing Dad.”

I know Elle says this to keep her mom from ranting, but she’s also sincere. She loves her mom, and I feel a pang of jealousy over their closeness.

“What’s fair is fair,” Aunt Cindy says. “If I didn’t think the two of you had such a firm foundation, I’d have never agreed.” She wipes her hands on her apron. “Well then, how are you set for school clothes, Anna?”


  1. Hello!
    I loved the opening, in just that first paragraph I can clearly picture the school supplies section at Walmart! I’m a little confused about the difference between the déjà vu and the dream – I felt a little bounced back and forth as I tried to figure out which was which. Maybe because you mentioned the dream first – then she had the vision that I didn’t realize was the vision – and then its back to talking about the dream. I know you know it’s hard to follow, since the MC says it’s hard to follow, lol. Maybe if there was an actual vision that happened? Also, I want to know what the dad dream was, you mention it, but then move on super quickly.
    -K. Stoker

  2. I wasn't clear at first which woman Anna was talking about. Perhaps show the woman first, then give us Anna's reaction? Also, in the first paragraph Anna seems very certain this is the woman from her dream, so I wondered why she was less certain in the next paragraph. Could you give us a little more detail about the woman and what Anna saw in her vision? The woman obviously makes a big impression on Anna, and so I expected her to focus more on the details, as well as trying to remember what she saw.

    I like how Elle takes Anna's visions in stride. She already feels like a fun supporting character.

    I'm not clear why it's a big deal either to Anna or Elle whether Anna calls these premonitions visions or déjà vu. I think the freaky part would be that they're happening at all. Are the dreams and visions separate things? Or does Anna get these premonitions both waking and sleeping? Consider simplifying this a little for clarity.

    I'm also not clear on how Anna prevented her dad's death. Presumably she had a vision of the crash, but it doesn't sound like the crash itself was prevented. I felt like this either needed a little more detail here or could be trimmed and included later.

    What's Anna's goal in the scene with Aunt Cindy? I felt that the tension decreases in this section, but this could be because we don't see the whole scene here.

    I'm intrigued by how Anna's visions will intersect with questions of faith, and I'm definitely intrigued by who the woman from the dream is. I like the tension of Anna feeling like she should do something with her visions, but at the same time she doesn't want to.


  3. Hi Kim!

    Thanks so much for allowing me to take a look at your opening pages.

    I think you have a good character trait here, with your MC having visions, but I'd like you to get there faster. Open with her firmly having visions and allow the reader to see her reactions to them. She can own them without fully having figure out her ability yet. But it's my opinion that you could use this space to explore how they make her feel. How do they disrupt her days and thoughts? Is she questioning her sanity? Or are these visions a good thing, as they helped her save her father? You want to start these pages by giving the reader the "known" aspects of your character (the visions) and then hook the reader with the conflict for your character, presumably something to do with the visions themselves but I'm unclear in the current version. Are the visions calling her to action? Will they hurt her somehow? Does every time she intervenes result in her paying some kind of price? If you set up those stakes for your character, I think it will be a much stronger read.

    As for the scene with her aunt, I'm not certain it's driving the story forward in the way that you need. By the end of page five, the reader should firmly feel the conflict the character is in. In a big way. So while it's great to set up family dynamics and expectations, the reader needs to know what HUGE thing has happened that throws your MC's life into chaos or action. This is the thread of your story that will pull the reader through all of your pages so it's definitely worth sorting out in your revision.

    I hope that all makes sense. I truly look forward to reading your revised pages and thank you again for trusting me to take a peek.

    1. Your questions will be very helpful as I revise to show how Anna feels about her situation. Thanks for your constructive critique that provides direction. I greatly appreciate it.

  4. Hi Kim,

    I've enjoyed your pages! It's an interesting "gift" she has, but I'm not totally sure yet what it is, and is sounds like neither is she, but I think you could show us a little better what it is she can actually do. Does the woman at walmart come back into play later or was that just an example? It might be cool to start with something that factors in later?

    Her cousin Elle seems a little bit young for a YA.

    I think you could have a punchier opening line. like- last night's dream came true or something like that???

    I think you have nice dialogue.

    Nice descriptions and placing me in the scene, but I'd love this first scene to do more in terms of conflict.

    Thanks for sharing this with me and letting me share some of my thoughts.

    Mary Jolley

  5. Thanks for your helpful comments. I will try to make things clearer. The woman at Walmart is key to the story, but I will get to the conflict earlier and include more of Anna's internal struggle with her "gift." Thank you!

  6. Hi Kim!

    Sorry I'm a little late to the comment party but here are mine:

    I thoroughly enjoyed your opening pages! The dialogue with Elle is great and reminds me of some of my own family members.

    I agree with Jim's comment on vision vs deja vu and how they happen (during dreams, randomly) would be nice to know so that we know when they are happening in future pages. I also want to know when and how they started as she seems fairly relaxed and not really phased by it.

    Those are my thoughts! I look forward to reading your revision!

    This piece opens with an irresistible combination of Walmart and visions—and two girls who care about each other. I suspect the fact that they look so similar that they could be twins will play later in the story, so that gave me something to consider and contemplate—always good to drop those things in for readers. The visions, déjà vu, whatevs (especially the one about dad) added an element of edge, suggesting this won’t just be a friend-y, saccharine piece. What I would like to see is more surprise in the interaction between the girls. Not in the way the girls interact, but their actions. The purpose of the scenes can be exactly the same but if you show them doing something unexpected you will heighten the intrigue for the reader...unless (there’s always a caveat) this 1950’s view of two girls is by absolute design. And by that, I mean that it is a story point. Looking forward to reading more! Good luck!

    1. Thank you! Good advice. I will try to figure out how to do that : )

  8. I'm so late! Thank you for letting me read. I know how scary it is to put it out there. It seems everyone has echoed my own thoughts. I love the opening. A stronger first line would help pull me in a bit more. I'd also like to hear more about the de ja vu (when and how they began). Overall, great job! Looking forward to seeing what you do with the revision.